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Yule Cinema School: What great Christmas movies can teach you in the workplace

Christmas. It’s the only holiday to come with its’ own movie genre. From films that take specific Christmas stories to ones that just happen to be set around the end of the year, there’s nothing better than spending part of the season watching one of these timeless classics.

But just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you can’t learn something. Christmas movies are full of tips and morals that you can apply to your career. There just seems to be something about a story with a lesson that filmmakers are drawn to at Yuletide.

Take a look at the following three Christmas movies. While all very different, they are classics of the genre, and as such have much to teach. 

Die Hard

From the number of action films set around Christmas, it would be fair to say the lesson is to always make sure you invite a renegade police office to your Christmas party. Between the Die Hard films and Lethal Weapon that seems like a clear message to take out.

There is, however, a bigger tip here, and one that serves you better in your career.

Die Hard teaches that, no matter how impressive you are, you still need support.

You may be thinking that I’m mad for saying this. People look on this film as an ode to self-sufficiency, and a model for stories about one man against the world. Which is true, to an extent. When Hans Gruber and his men take the Nakatoi Plaza, John McClane does have to go it alone, and he does an amazing job of it.

McClane does do 98% of the work, as sometimes extremely talented people do, and there is no question that, without him, Gruber would have been gallivanting around Europe with hundreds of millions of dollars in bearer bonds.

It’s that last two percent, though, where the support comes in. Where would McClane be if Sgt. Powell hadn’t shot Karl when he stumbled out of the building? What if Argyle hadn’t been in the car park and Theo had made it to the escape car? Their help may have been small in the scheme of things, but it was vital.

Even John McClane can’t do everything alone. Chances are, neither can you, so make sure you have a support network in place. 

Muppet Christmas Carol

I love Christmas, and I love Muppets, so it stands to reason that the Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favourite Christmas movies. While the message in the film itself is a pretty simple one, to treat every day with the wonder and joy of Christmas day, the greater message comes from the success of the film itself.

This brilliant film teaches us that, when being creative, you have to respect what has come before.

Underneath the wackiness of the Muppets, with their singing fruit, ice skating penguins, and jellybean-munching rat, is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the Dickens classic. And it is this faithfulness that is the real secret to the film.

Take a look at the main characters. Scrooge, the three spirits, Clara, Scrooge’s nephew, and even Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim are played absolutely straight, for the most part. They deliver lines almost exactly as old Charlie wrote them, and make it possible for the craziness to go on around them.

Without this serious core holding everything together, the film would just be zaniness without any grounding. It is the respect for the original material that allows the film’s creators to really get creative.

The same concept is useful in the workplace. Creativity is a wonderful thing, but it’s more likely to be successful when built on what has come before it.

It’s a Wonderful Life

The granddaddy of the Christmas movie, Frank Capra’s beautiful, sentimental fable is an undeniable classic. Who doesn’t get a bit of a thrill when George Bailey runs down the main street of Bedford Falls shouting, “Merry Christmas you old savings and loans”?

It’s a Wonderful Life is the story of a man who puts everyone else before his own dreams, but who nearly throws it all away after a single mistake, only to be shown some perspective by an angel. It’s that lesson of perspective that you can take back to your career.

Sometimes when you’re at work in one place for a while, you can start to feel that a lot of your work isn’t having much impact. Individual tasks can seem pointless, and it kills your enthusiasm.

When that happens, you have to do what Clarence made George Bailey do. You have to stand back and take stock. Think back through everything you’ve done in the past week, and year, and however long you’ve been with the company. Think about the things that you’ve achieved, and the things that couldn’t have been done by anyone else.

This wider perspective is as close as you can get to seeing what the place would have been like without you. Now, we’re not all going to have saved lives and resisted the depression, but we have all improved where we work in some way or another. By taking that step back, you can see the addition you have made. It might not make you the richest man in town, but you’ll certainly feel much better.

There is a lot to learn from the cinema of this season, so it’s time to go and revisit the DVD collection. Pretty soon you’ll see the directors of these classics as your own guardian angels.

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