Four Things I've learned About Business from Watching The West Wing

January 30, 2014 | By Matt Blanchard, Cofounder & CEO

1. Learn how to argue about business with coworkers without it affecting your emotions

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m a professional saxophone player. When I was in college working towards my Bachelor of Arts in Jazz and Contemporary Media—a fancy name for something that doesn’t mean a whole lot—at Eastman School of Music, there was a rebirth of how creativity was being sought after in the jazz world. Previously, many musicians had experimented with drugs to spark creativity or to reach the inner depths of their minds. However, for my generation it was exactly the opposite - healthy eating, exercise and natural meditation. An interesting result of this new practice, at least between my friends and me, was the inability to confront each other when we had a disagreement. Passive-aggressiveness became prominent and being overly nice, to the point of sometimes being fake or telling white lies, was the standard.

When we started Crush & Lovely 10 years ago, this habit continued a bit between my co-founder, Nathan Heleine, and me. However, after watching hours and hours of The West Wing together, we quickly realized the need to be able to argue constructively about business without it affecting our emotions. It took time and much persistence, but I can confidently say that Nathan and I can battle it out and, once the argument is resolved, we instantaneously get back to our friendship and business as usual.

2. Learn how to take a stand and make decisions

As a company, it’s very easy to want to remain neutral on all things, business and otherwise, in order to not offend a current or potential future client. However, we’ve learned that taking a stand, planting a flag, and instilling certain personal beliefs into the culture of our company has propelled us into amazing client partnerships and projects and, in general, influences how we are viewed by the world.

As we’ve all heard many times, attempting to please everyone is impossible. And there will always be people who strongly disagree with your position - and that’s ok. Interest and intrigue is generated from all sides of the argument; I love this moment from the movie Private Parts:

Researcher: The average radio listener listens for 18 minutes a day. The average Howard Stern fan listens for—are you ready for this?—an hour and 20 minutes.

Howard’s boss (who dislikes him):* How could this be?

Researcher: Answer most commonly given: “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

Howard’s boss: All right, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?

Researcher: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.

Howard’s boss: But if they hate him, why do they listen?

Researcher: Most common answer: “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

3. Always research the person you are about to meet

Everyone likes to hear their own name. Believe it. And imagine what happens when you know much more about someone than just their name. At Crush & Lovely, we do extensive research on everyone we are about to meet. This clip is a bit harsh, but it shows the preparation we believe is necessary for even the smallest of meetings.

4. Offer real friendship and support to your coworkers

These types of moments happen quite often throughout the seven seasons of The West Wing and they always have a profound effect on me. I try to support my employees in every way possible, from no-questions-asked if they need time off for a family matter, to staying late at the office with a member of my team—even if I’m done with my work for the day—if I know they are going to be by themselves.

Listening also plays a large part in this philosophy. Oftentimes, I’ll have 10 things I’m thinking about, but if a coworker is telling me a story about their weekend, I aim to listen as intently as possible.

That’s all for this round. I’ll be back with more business lessons learned from The West Wing and other seemingly unrelated areas of my life. Until then, to my fellow West Wing lovers out there: “What’s next?”