I just finished watching the season finale of Breaking Bad! Thanks to Netflix streaming, I watched the last several seasons over just a few short weeks, and eagerly plowed through part 2 of season 5 within a few days of it getting released last week. I had some fun conversations with friends about the show over the weekend and how it teaches us a few things about business and money. Note: I have a several plot references in this post, so if you haven’t finished watching the show, bookmark this post for after you’re done.
Lesson #1: Desperation Changes You
I loved the scenes early on in the series when Walter was working a second job at a local carwash (his primary job was a high school chemistry teacher). The humiliation and aggravation he expressed when he was confronted polishing the rims of one of his students’ cars was raw and relatable.
We all know that teacher salaries are low, and Walt was just trying to quietly make ends meet. But it’s hard to stay under the radar in small communities, and he had limited options at the time. I remember I used to be so worried that I’d be seen by my classmates working as a grocery bagger or a similar minimum wage job in high school that I didn’t even try to earn some extra money.
Walt ended up quitting that job in a fit of rage after finding out he was diagnosed with cancer. He didn’t want to have to be pushed around and treated like crap anymore, something a lot of us can empathize with. And when he finally agreed to face $90k+ in medical treatments and fight to stay alive for his growing family, his sheer desperation for money drove him to think way outside the box.
Sometimes it takes being pushed to extremes to get enough courage to try something new. I’m not suggesting you go out and start your own meth lab lol. But it’s an intriguing exercise to think about how far you might be willing to go if you were put in a desperate situation. If you’d be willing to take more risks, why not take some of them now? Who says you have to wait for a disaster to strike in order to explore some untemplate options?
Lesson #2: Even The Best Partnerships Can Sour
Walt carries a lot of resentment and anger throughout the series towards his former business parter Elliott Schwartz. This is another great lesson that Breaking Bad teaches us about business and money. Even the best partnerships and friendships can sour, and we see this all the time in the real world. For example, a friend of mine quit his start-up because he developed too much conflict with his co-founder, and one of my former clients had to switch jobs after witnessing too many visionary battles between the founding partners.
Breaking Bad was filled with relationships that greatly changed over the course of the show. And the deterioration of these partnerships had dramatic effects on the business, profitability, and stress. Think about all the heated conversations, fights, and breakdowns between Mr. White and Jesse, Gustavo and Heisenberg, Walt and Mike, Jesse and Todd, Walter and Lydia, Ted Beneke and Skyler, Walt and the Schwartz’s, Jesse and Skinny/Badger, Skyler and Walt, etc.
The dynamics of these relationships made excellent entertainment for us. But none of us would want to go through that type of turmoil in our own lives. That’s not to say that every business partnership out there is doomed, but it’s a good reminder that people change, and even if you share the same vision now, you may not later on. So be careful who you choose to partner with in business, and protect what’s rightfully yours.
Lesson #3: It’s All About Branding & Taking Out The Competition
As Breaking Bad fans know, Heisenberg’s product quickly dominated the entire meth market. The buzz about the purity of his meth spread like wildfire. The blue tinge made it easily identifiable, and it became all the rage both locally and abroad because of its superior quality. Everybody wanted to switch to his brand because the ~76% purity of the competition was suddenly total crap compared to his 99%. Later, other cooks tried to imitate Heisenberg’s product by using food coloring, but they were no match.
What this reminds us is the importance of branding your business and creating a niche. Creating a stand out product or service is the foundation to business branding, as well as tapping into the right network. If your product or service isn’t well known, and doesn’t have enough unique features, it’s not going to survive out there. Walter White was able to take out his competition because his product was so superior in quality. And he also had a lot of help going mainstream through Gustavo’s network and getting access to a clandestine lab with top of the line equipment.
Lesson #4: Greed And Power Can Take Over
One of my favorite lines from Breaking Bad is in the final episode when Walt sees Skyler for the last time. They are both exhausted and withered down. And we know the end is coming. Finally, in just a few words, we get to hear the truth about why Walt did all the things that he did.
“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And… I was… really… I was alive.”
Even though countless times before this scene Walt said he was doing everything for his kids, we could see the fire in his eyes that hinted that wasn’t the true reason. He loved the danger, the process of perfecting his cook, the insane amount of money he was making, and the rush of power. He became a different man, and had he been healthy, I don’t think he would have stopped.
Money and power change people. Walt made millions before his cancer came back, but he wouldn’t quit. He kept putting himself and his family in danger because he liked the power of being Heisenberg, and he became greedy. Another example is when Jack’s crew stole 70 million dollars from Heisenberg and they still wanted to take the risks of cooking the remaining methylamine because they could make more money. It may seem hard to believe, but it’s hard to walk away from making more money when you are already rich. But you have to accept the consequences that come with it.
Lesson #5: The Right Fit Does Wonders
Breaking Bad was so exciting to watch because Walter White loved his business, and he was great at it. There are lots of things that you and I love to do, but frankly we’re just not that good at them. Natural talent is rare in a lot of things. I realized this with photography, and gave up my dream because of it.
The other scenario that comes up in life is when you are really good at something, but you don’t like to do it. My parents struggled to get me to like music and pursue it as a career for the longest time because I had natural talent, but my heart was never in it. I love listening to music, but there are so many things I’d rather do to earn a living than play in an ensemble or teach.
So when you find something you love to do that you’re also really good at, you have to hold on to that. The right fit can take you places you never even imagined.
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