“Daybreak needs what I need, someone who believes that it can succeed. Trust me, I know you don’t have any reason to believe in me, but I work harder than anyone else. I’m in first, I’m out last. I know a shitload more about the news than someone whose daddy paid them to smoke bongs and talk semiotics at Harvard and I devote myself completely to my job. It’s what I do. It’s all I am. I… You can ask anyone.”
At this point I’m pretty sure you think I’m losing my mind (or that I am really desperate to find movies with economic premises)*–how is a silly comedy (that has a romantic subplot, but not enough of one to call it a romantic comedy) going demonstrate economics? Just trust me that I do know what I’m talking about. For those that don’t know the film, Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller an inexperienced executive producer who has been given the very undesirable job of bringing the worst morning news show in history up in the ratings…and her genius idea is to bring a veteran hard news anchor, played by Harrison Ford, who doesn’t want to be there, on to the very light news morning show. Hilarity and infighting ensues. But buried in this pure entertainment story are a few economic truths.
The first is the most basic of all economic principles at the heart of capitalism: adapt or die. The entire central plot is about brining up a failing TV show in the ratings. And the only way this happens is by throwing out old rules and changing the format of the show. This includes more sensationalism, making deals with celebrities that no other show would ever make, having the anchors bicker on air because it brings in more ratings. Adapt or die. Every company on earth (when they’re not being bailed out by morons who don’t understand capitalism) faces this basic principle. And it’s a good thing. As shown in the movie it forces the people on the TV show to adapt, to innovate, to come up with new things that work. It forces the show and the people, people who had previously given up, to come up with new ways of doing things, to be better and create things that work. Adapt or die, it is what turns $50,000+ worth of equipment in 1985 taking up probably half a ton of mass, into your smart phone that cost you $300 and about a pound of mass.
And this ties to the last two movies and the idea of creative destruction. As most companies try to avoid being the victim of creative destruction they have the choice to grow and not die. Which the show in this movie does. It is what drives a healthy economy, the need to survive forces us to grow and produce better and cheaper products.
And tied to this is this principle of adapt or die is the idea of being a leader. No organization or person can grow without being willing to make decisions.
One of the best descriptions on leadership goes as follows:
The difference between a good administrator and a bad one is about five heartbeats. Good administrators make immediate choices … [that] usually can be made to work. A bad administrator, on the other hand, hesitates, diddles around, asks for committees, for research and reports. Eventually, he acts in ways which create serious problems … A bad administrator is more concerned with reports than with decisions. He wants the hard record which he can display as an excuse for his errors … [Good administrators] depend on verbal orders. They never lie about what they’ve done if their verbal orders cause problems, and they surround themselves with people able to act wisely on the basis of verbal orders. Often, the most important piece of information is that something has gone wrong. Bad administrators hide their mistakes until it’s too late to make corrections … One of the hardest things to find is people who actually make decisions.—Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune
And the character of Becky Fuller displays this trait perfectly. Within minutes of taking her new job she is bombarded with not only a huge amount of choices but also a grossly inept employee…but rather than saying things like “I’ll get back to you” and consult others she makes choices right there based on her own judgment. And rather than deal with a clearly toxic and useless employee she just fires him because he is absolutely worthless. She makes judgment calls and works with the fallout rather than blaming others. No company, no organization, no individual can progress without this; making immediate choices and working with the fallout. No economy can survive or grow without such leaders. A shame we don’t have anything like that on Pennsylvania Avenue.
*both may be correct to one degree or another, but that doesn’t negate my point about this film.