I recently signed up for a business coach. He told me not to ask “how” something was to be done but ask “why” I wanted it to be done in the first place. Doesn’t make sense? Seems like bullshit? Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re just not ready. All that matters is that it resonated with me. I went home that night and watched the season 5 finale for Breaking Bad to prep myself for the upcoming finale, and I noticed…Walter White did not ask his mignons how they would accomplish a mass murder. He had a vision for what needed to be done and he simply told them that they needed to make it happen. He knew the why so the how did not much matter.
Fast forward a couple of months and AMC’s Breaking Bad is finally over; it is a bit bittersweet. I loved the finale, loved that Jesse Pinkman is finally free from Walt and from the white supremacist gang, and loved that Walt died surrounded by the things that made him come alive. Now, Walter White was a grade A asshole most (all?) of the time. Through the years, I have had a love/hate relationship with him. Recently, however, regardless of whether I hate him or love him, I have come to admire him. That’s right. I said it. He is a bad man. He ruins lives. He is compelling and he knows what he wants.
I think that Walt’s journey will continue to stick with me even though the show is over. I see his growth to kingpin status paralleling the growth many business owners experience. His pitfalls mirror many of the pitfalls that entrepreneurs encounter. It seems odd, I know. It’s a TV show. It’s about dealing meth. At its core, however, it’s about someone who is unhappy with his stock in life and finally is motivated to make a radical change once he realizes that his time is short.
Walt starts his journey as a humble schoolteacher. He is nice. He is hard working. People like him. In fact, people walk all over him. Then, however, he is diagnosed with cancer. Something snaps and he is confronted with two main truths:
1) he cannot pay for the treatments that will save his life;
2) he is unhappy with the life that he is living.
Walt’s brother-in-law unknowingly opens Walt’s eyes to the possibilities of the meth world that Walt, in a less aware state, would have probably been oblivious to. Due to his new perspective he sees the money and the potential contributions that he could make because of his unique expertise. Since I have been reading the Emyth by Michael Gerber , I will put it in those terms – he has had his “entrepreneurial seizure.”
After spending a lot of time, money, and energy developing his product, Walt needs distributors – a predicament many innovators find themselves in. Walt, though a technical expert in the science, needs his business partner – Jesse – an industry expert/insider – to help actually make money off of this great product.
Jesse and Walt fail to adequately demonstrate their value to this distributor and the distributor failed to take them seriously. In Walt’s case this ends in death for the distributor and is a harsh awakening to the realities of his industry. Death does not normally play a part in the majority of entrepreneurial endeavors I help with, but the ability to demonstrate value does.
Walt then moves on up the ladder from his previous distributor and, this time, finds a way to demonstrate his legitimacy to the industry – by blowing things up, killing, etc. Each industry, naturally, has its own ins-and-outs that are unique. My industry, the law, would frown upon such antics, but it worked for Walt and Jesse. Legitimacy can be achieved in a majority of ways that do not involve violence and I urge entrepreneurs to explore those avenues.
As the seasons progress, Walt and Jesse strive towards more legitimacy and towards a more sustainable business model. They attempt to create their own distribution model now that their previous distributors are out of the picture. Their initial, short-sighted goals are replaced with the glimmer of an empire. With this inkling, they hire an attorney – they’ve reached THAT stage (really, though, many of their initial struggles could have been avoided or handled with the help of an attorney but it’s good that they finally sought counsel).
As can happen when hiring the right counsel, Saul amps up their game – introduces them to the big leagues and demonstrates just how far their venture can take them if they play their cards correctly by connecting them with Gus. Walt is seduced by the steady paycheck and stability of a job and ends up working for Gus, as happens to many entrepreneurs. As viewers know, Walt balks under the authority of another and steps up. Walt achieves control of his empire but has ultimately grown too quickly. He did not properly look into the business that he has acquired and now has lost the mentor that he once had…because he blew him up (don’t burn bridges? Mentors are important? Take what you will from this lesson).
Walt is doomed to fail because he did not adequately prepare and vet his business acquisition, he repeatedly refuses to consider the advice of others, and he failed to truly own and keep in mind his entrepreneurial vision.
It’s really unfortunate because as evil as Walt the King Pin was, I loved him most when he truly owned his inner entrepreneur. He had a vision and chose to never become too concerned with “how” that vision would be achieved because he knew the “why.” The “how” always came together. The issue might be that what drove Walt would also ensure that he would never be satisfied with the heights he achieved.
What do you think? Do you think it was just the nature of the industry or some fatal flaw in Walt’s business model that brought him down?