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5 Business Lessons from Elf

by Jeffrey Lutz

Hey there. So I was thinking…

If you ignore the tragic backstory of Buddy the Elf… you know, that whole “not knowing his real family for 30 years thing” and being so poorly cared for by his orphanage that he’s unknowingly whisked away by St. Nick himself, the guy, or the elf – what is he again – actually has a pretty sweet gig.

As the only human at Santa’s workshop, he gets to eat as much candy as he wants, learn at the foot (or on the lap) of the wisest elf at the North Pole, and he only has to produce 85 Etch a Sketches a day instead of the typical 1,000. But after Buddy learns thathe’s not going to live to be, like, 6,000, he sets out for New York City – on foot! — to discover his true identity.

Between Santa’s workshop, Gimbels, and Buddy’s dad’s publishing company, a lot of Elf, the 2003 classic starring Will Ferrell, takes place at work. So it stands to reason that business lessons are scattered throughout the film’s 97 minutes. I’m Jeff from Prime Concepts, and on Day 3 of Do You See What I See, we invite you to enjoy the top five business secrets from Elf. And then, to finish, we’ll snuggle

Lesson 1: Bloom Where You’re Planted

Circumstances can change everything. If Buddy hadn’t crawled into Santa’s sack at the orphanage he might have spent his entire childhood shuffling between families and battling the massive insecurities that come with abandonment. Instead, he ended up at the North Pole and emotionally thrived in an environment that didn’t cater to humans. When he wandered into a job at Gimbels in New York, he literally made the place more merry and bright. You don’t always get to choose your surroundings, but you can make them better by just being yourself, having a positive attitude, and arming yourself with the best Lite-Brite skills this side of the North Pole.

Lesson 2: Be a Good Mentor

You know why Buddy never felt out of place at Santa’s workshop, even though he had to notice fairly early on that he was growing out of the standard-size yellow tights? It’s because Bob Newhart in an elf costume, which will not be hilariously charming, made Buddy feel like one of the … guys? Girls? Like one of the elves! If you’re in charge of helping to guide the career of someone else, figure out what sets them apart and celebrate their unique qualities. Buddy got to be an individual and part of a team at the same time because he was mentored by a comedy legend who knew how to set Buddy up for his own version of success.

Lesson 3: Don’t Rest on Success

Ed Asner in a Santa costume had the right idea. Immediately after a successful night flying around the world to eat cookies, scare dogs, and leave PlayStation under the tree for spoiled children around the world, ol’ Edward Claus puts that great night behind him. Now, it’s OK to celebrate success, especially if you have 364 days until you’re officially back on the clock. But you also have to remember that success came from a lot of planning, strategizing, and hard work, and you’ll probably have to work even harder to replicate it. So take a moment to revel in your achievement, and then get back to work on those etch-a-sketches, man.

Lesson 4: Recognize When You’re Becoming Complacent

Walter Hobbs, aka Buddy’s real dad, isn’t a nice guy. That’s why he’s on Ed Asner’s Naughty List. And hell hath no fury like a Lou Grant scorned. Walter’s job is to put out quality books for children, but he’s placed quality behind making money, and his work and creativity suffer because of it. Walter finally figures this out when Buddy taps into his softer side, and thankfully it’s not too late. Being complacent isn’t something you just work through. You have to change something. Learn a new skill, take a risk, take a day or two off to recharge. If Walter is any indication, being stagnant is just going to turn you into a cotton-head ninny mugging.

Lesson 5: Put Work In Its Proper Place

By the end of the movie, Walter is singing “Santa Claus is coming to town” in a crowd of people, fully enraptured by the Christmas spirit. Wait til he finds out it’s really Ed Asner. I bet he’ll sing his heart out for Ed. So what put Walter in such a festive mood? Not work! The dude had just lost his job! It was the realization, finally, that family comes first. Yes, work is important. Yes, it deserves your full attention when you’re on the job. But when you leave the office, leave the stress and worry behind and focus on what really matters – love, family, community, and as much syrup as you can get your hands on.

Smiling’s my favorite. That doesn’t necessarily fit here, but I wasn’t able to work it in during the lessons, and I thought it was important to share. Speaking of sharing, did you find any other hidden business lessons in Elf? Share it in the comments below and get the conversation started. Thanks for watching – it’s been nice to talk to other humans who share our affinity for elf culture. See you next time!

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