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6 Management Lessons From The Ghostbusters

Who are you going to call? Ask that innocuous question to anyone over a certain age, and you’ll undoubtedly be answered with a resounding “Ghostbusters!” Why? Because you always call the Ghostbusters. Duh.

The 1984 hit film was an instant classic, spawning a sequel in 1989, an animated spinoff series that ran for six seasons, and a forthcoming reboot with an all-female cast in 2016. The original Ghostbusters was the highest grossing comedy film of all time until it was beaten by Home Alone in 1990.

You know them, you love them, they’re the Ghostbusters. The film celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, and it’s a rare example of an “old” movie that hasn’t lost any of its appeal. My ten year old son saw it for the first time two years ago, and it quickly joined the list of his favourite films. The anticipation for the reimagining next year is reaching a fevered pitch.

It’s funny. It’s exciting. It’s action-packed. It has Bill Murray (any movie with Murray is automatically better than any movie without him...it’s a fact).

And it can teach you about management and running a business, too. True story. While the Ghostbusters may be fictional supernatural elimination engineers, they also know a thing or two about good management...even if only by accident.  

So sit back, grab yourself a twinkie, and find out the 7 management lessons you can learn from them.

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1. There’s always room for optimism

ghostbuster dance

It’s far too easy to dwell in cynicism and pessimism. The world can be a dark, scary, dog-eat-dog place, but that shouldn’t stop you from keeping things positive. Consider our good friend Ray Stantz (played by Dan Aykroyd). He’s the resident optimist in the Ghostbuster ranks; the “glass is half full” counterpoint to Peter Venkman’s (Bill Murray) sarcasm and cynicism, and Egon Spengler’s (Harold Ramis) pessimism and pure logic. If it weren’t for him, nothing would ever get accomplished.

Remember when the guys were looking at locations for their business? The firehouse was run-down, and literally crumbling around them. Egon considers it woefully inadequate for their space and electrical needs, and Peter can’t help but think it’s a bit pricey for such a unique “fixer-upper”. That could have been the end of it. But Ray is smitten with the place - cobwebs, decay, and all - and is so thrilled with the place that he can’t hide his excitement. He wants to sleep there that very night.

Well, the rest is history. They take the place, and I think we can all agree that it worked out pretty damn good for them. It’s hard to imagine the Ghostbusters at all without placing them in their firehouse headquarters. But if not for Stantz - seeing beyond and recognizing the potential - it would never have happened. There’s always room - and in fact, need - for optimism.

2. Without great risk, there is no great reward.


The Ghostbusters had to deal with a lot of spooks, ghosts, and specters in the films, but none can hold a candle to Gozer, the supervillain in the original one. Their battle atop the Shandor Building was epic, complete with a 112-foot tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, hellhounds, and Gozer himself. They very nearly lost, which would have been seriously bad for New York City tourism that year.

When things were at their bleakest, Egon comes up with a plan. A crazy plan. A crazy, suicidal plan that would result in almost certain death. But hey, no guts, no glory. Egon recommends crossing the streams on their proton packs...a no-no that he previously warned against. Why is it so bad?

“Try to imagine all life as you know it ending instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

That’s the bad part. But he figures there’s at least a small chance that it will defeat Gozer and save the world. So, of course, they go for it.

You need to adopt a similar attitude in your management. Staying safe in business is rarely going to lead to growth and success. Big risks often lead to big rewards.

3. Surround yourself with talented people


The Ghostbusters were a trio of colleagues in the Paranormal Psychology department at NYU. Each one brought something different to the table. While they didn’t technically have a “leader”, Venkman was the face and spokesman for the group. He was the charm, the charisma, the swagger (much like a modern CEO). Stantz brought the money, can-do attitude, and willingness to try anything...at least once. And Spengler was the brains behind most of the science. Individually, none of them would have succeeded in this, but collectively, they had everything they needed to thrive.

As a manager, you need to surround yourself with multi-talented individuals with expertise in areas that you have little or none. Complement and complete each other. No one can do it all themselves.

4. You’ve got to spend money to make money

This is business 101. It takes money to make money. No matter how good your product or service, if no one knows about it, you’re not going to make a dime. You have to advertise. You have to get the word out there. The Ghostbusters knew this. Their late-night television ad may not be the most polished or eye-catching, but it did get the job done. It lead directly to their first paying gig at the snooty Sedgewick Hotel. That ad and the job it brought them opened the floodgates. The Ghostbusters had arrived.

Your business is no different. No one loves spending their money (even if you love shopping, you’d love it much more if it didn’t cost you a cent, right?), but you have to be prepared to invest in your business. Spend money now, makes money later. That’s the way it works.

Take a cue from Ray, Peter, and Egon. After all, they’re scientists, man.

5. It pays to specialize


The Ghostbusters found a niche and quickly conquered it. They became the premier (and only) ghost elimination experts. In short, they chose a niche and specialization. They didn’t offer their services for the capture and storage of ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves, raccoons, and fire ants. No. They were all about the ghosts, spooks, and poltergeists. No more. No less.

You need to be just as selective in your business and management. Yes, it might be worthwhile to expand and diversify down the road (but it might not be), but you should pick a niche and run with it in the beginning.

The Ghostbusters did just that: busted ghosts. Their name, logo, and ads presented that one and only service. And people responded to it. It was something they needed.  

What’s the one thing that you provide or do better than anyone else?

6. Haters Gonna Hate


Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler were run out of their university jobs. People thought they were jokes. They had trouble convincing the mayor’s office in New York City what was happening and how they could help, and the EPA and its rep, Walter Peck (god, do I hate that guy!), thought they were con artists. No one believed them. No one took them seriously.

But that didn’t stop them, did it? Nope, they kept at it. Mortgaged Ray’s house. Financed everything themselves. Advertised their services. And waited. But never once did they lose faith in their concept or their abilities. They could - and would - do this.

Hey, haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. You’ve just gotta shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it off (wait...that’s actually a management lesson we learned from Taylor Swift, but it applies here, too).

See Also: 5 Lessons Roman Generals Teach Us About Management

The Ghostbusters were savvy businessmen. They got it. And what they didn’t know at first, they learned along the way. They recognized the need to grow and expand, for example, only when it became necessary, and hired a fourth member of the team in Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson). If you’re not growing, you’re dying. But growth and expansion should never be the goal. It’s a by-product, and it will come at its own pace. Don’t enter into business with a set deadline regarding growth. It rarely works that way. It has to be organic. Follow the Ghostbusters’ lead.

A great film. A great cast. And some great lessons on management. It’s the perfect trifecta. Watch it again this weekend. Laugh. Learn.

Who you gonna call for business insights and lessons? Ghostbusters.

Anything else the film taught you about business, management, or life in general? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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