5 Lessons for Small Businesses from Oscar-nominated Movies

From ‘Arrival’ to ‘La La Land,’ these films can teach as much as they entertain.
Small business owners can find inspiration from this year's Oscar-nominated films. (Photo: AllaSaa/Shutterstock)

With themes like overcoming adversity, following your dreams and moving to the beat of your own drum, this year’s Academy Award Best Picture nominees offer plenty of inspiration for everyone, including small business owners.

Here are a few of our favorite films vying for Hollywood’s top honor that manage to not only entertain but also impart practical lessons crucial to any kind of success.



(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Small business lesson: Be adaptive with your communication.

“Arrival” tells the story of a gifted linguist, played by Amy Adams, tasked with helping the U.S. government communicate with alien lifeforms.

Adams and her team are very careful in studying their new alien friends and crafting an appropriate message to engage them. When efforts to communicate with one method don’t work as expected, they try another.

As a small business owner, listening to your customers and finding the most effective ways to communicate with them are paramount.

“One of the most effective ways for small businesses to stand out is by providing the kind of authentic, personalized service that customers deserve and that big businesses have trouble cultivating,” Michael Parrish Dudell, bestselling author of the official business book series from ABC’s “Shark Tank,” told NCR Silver.

“At the core of such world-class service is a deep understanding and respect for each part of the feedback process. It’s imperative that small businesses learn how to think iteratively about communication and leverage it to become their greatest asset, instead of a liability.”



(Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Small business lesson: Attack challenges methodically, and look to technology to help.

“Lion” tells the story of a young Indian boy named Saroo who lives in a remote village and becomes separated from his family. He ends up in an orphanage thousands of miles away and is adopted by an Australian couple. As a young adult he becomes obsessed with finding his birth family, but it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.

The adult Saroo, played by Dev Patel, develops a methodical strategy for his search and pursues it daily with determined focus. He eventually gets an unforeseen assist from the world of technology.

Small business owners should be equally methodical in their quest for success, whether they’re looking to maximize their marketing investment or grow their loyalty program. And stay on top of new (and existing) technologies that can help.

La La Land


(Photo: Summit Entertainment)

Small business lesson: Don’t give up on your dream.

One of the biggest musicals to take Hollywood by storm in recent memory, “La La Land” is a case study in holding fast to your dreams.

Mia and Sebastian, played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, find the path to success rife with failures. Mia’s auditions to become a famous actress end in rejection, while Sebastian’s dream of playing the jazz music he loves clashes with commercial realities.

These failures eventually help both characters find the happiness they’re looking for. For small business owners, the takeaway is to keep trying, keep pushing forward, and use tough times to reflect, adapt and grow.

“If there’s one thing every entrepreneur has in common it’s failure, so it’s critical that small business owners develop tactics and strategies for getting through the tough times,” said Dudell. “Remember, it’s not about how quickly you get back on the horse, it’s about how the fall affects your general outlook.”

Related: The Benefits of Failure and How to Learn From It

Hacksaw Ridge


(Photo: Summit Entertainment)

Small business lesson: Embrace your core beliefs.

“Hacksaw Ridge” tells the true story of a WWII medic who, on religious grounds, refused to carry a weapon during one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Played by Andrew Garfield, Desmond Doss is initially scorned by his fellow soldiers for his decision. His bravery in action, however, quickly changes minds. In the end, Doss not only saves the lives of dozens of wounded infantry but is awarded the Medal of Honor.

As a small business owners, staying true to your core values and your unique selling proposition will help set you apart from your competitors. Authenticity will not only attract customers but also allow you to grow a brand built upon principles you truly believe in.

Hidden Figures


(Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Small business lesson: Never stop learning.

While “Hidden Figures” offers all kinds of lessons for anyone to walk away with, one of the biggest is to never stop evolving.

The film tells the true story of three female African-American mathematicians at NASA in the early 1960s who become indispensable to the agency’s space program. They rise above through hard work, determination and an eagerness to learn and take on new challenges.

As a small business owner, your competitive edge will never dull as long as you stay engaged in your industry and pursue opportunities to learn. Make time to master new technologies and network with your peers. As Dudell said, no entrepreneur should ever feel satisfied with how much they know about their industry.

“Show me an entrepreneur who’s done learning, and I’ll show you someone at the precipice of irrelevance,” he shares. “If small business owners want to build a truly sustainable, future-focused company, it’s imperative that he or she embraces a beginner’s mentality. If you’re not evolving, you’re moving backwards.”

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