Five Fascinating Life & Business Lessons from Breaking Bad You Cannot Afford To Miss
Walter White of Breaking Bad is one of the most interesting protagonists in television history. He’s certainly a cunning character, but he also contains an incredible amount of depth. You may not think a show about producing and selling drugs could teach us anything, but you would be wrong. Here are five fascinating life & business lessons that we have learned from Walter White, the ultimate anti-hero of Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad was more than an intense, roller-coaster ride of a television show.
It was also a great learning resource for creating a new business from the ground up. Walter White was an amazing entrepreneur. And I think we can all learn a few things about running a business from watching him, and Jesse Pinkman, build their business from nothing. Say what you will of Breaking Bad’s protagonist Walter White — and there’s plenty to say. He’s a ruthless, sociopathic meth lord whose quest for power has wrought death and destruction we’ve yet to see the end of. But he’s also one hell of a businessman.
Whether you watched Breaking Bad for fun, or you were a die-hard fan who took note of the show’s every hidden message, there is no denying that the protagonist Walter White has plenty of life lessons to offer.
The science teacher turned drug lord lived a tale that went from a zany midlife crisis when he started using his chemistry background to cook meth with the purpose of leaving money for his family after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, to a ruthless king of the drug trade in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It became an intriguing story much more complex than it first seemed, and over time, viewers picked up on many so-called life lessons that could be taken from Breaking Bad, some subtle, some not so much.
If you want to succeed in your life as well as an entrepreneur and be even more profitable than you are right now, you should consider these practical lessons from Breaking Bad.
The tragic AMC series Breaking Bad had plenty of killer acting, potent twists and inspired craftsmanship, but at its heart it’s a story of ego, pride and business. And there are definitely lessons to be learned from that. So take these lessons with a moral grain of salt, but also remember that Walter White starts a highly lucrative business with some expertise and ambition. I think the greatest and most important lessons that we can learn from Breaking Bad are the following:
Lesson #1: Perfect Your Craft
With Walter’s background in Chemistry, he was able to produce crystal meth that was more potent and purer than that of his competitors. As a result, there was a high demand for his product. Instead of collecting the pseudoephedrine that is necessary to make the product, Walter White created a different process that utilized methylamine. This process gave the drug a blue color and the street name “Sky Blue.” This ingenious idea is similar to Steve Jobs with the apple products of the 21st century.
Don’t expect success to be easy. Every business faces its own obstacles and challenges.
Those who succeed, do so because of their ability to adapt quickly and take responsibility for their actions. If you really want to grow your business, you need to invest in your development, put a good strategic plan in place, outsource tasks to others who can do them well and learn to manage your team members properly. What Walter quickly discovers is that he knows nothing about actually running a business — inventory, distribution, marketing, collections etc. So he does what most entrepreneurs do — he wings it and finds out with disastrous consequences that he needs to educate himself quickly on how to operate a successful business and how to outsource the things that he does not have the skill or the time to do himself.
There wouldn’t have been a show if Jesse and Walt’s early days had resulted in only mediocre product.
Would they have made some money? Sure. Would international drug cartels and super meth lords like Gus Fring be desperate to get their hands on that product (and its creator)? Nope. Walter White would have just been some middle-aged chemistry teacher cooking drugs in his skivvies in the middle of the desert. His rise to mythological levels of power and notoriety started off with the one thing all wannabe entrepreneurs have to have: a solid, high-quality product. Walt’s meth was the purest in the marketplace, and his customers (and competition) recognized that — and that’s what gave him the leverage to build an empire from nothing.
Breaking Bad tells us that when you offer a great product with an obvious advantage, the world will beat a path straight to your door.
Never settle for less than the best. It all begins with offering something your customers can’t get enough of. When Jesse told Walt, truthfully, that a lesser quality drug would be more than good enough for addicts to come knocking, Walt stood firm on principle — he was not satisfied unless he was producing only the best product. Moreover, his product was so good that it kept him alive — distributors who wanted him dead realized that they had more to gain is they kept him producing his one-of-a-kind product. If you really want to truly “go for it” in business, you’ve got to develop the best products and services that people can get their hands on. Going the extra mile is the only way to build a strong consumer base.
Creating a high quality product or service will win you more customers than any amount of advertising.
When Walter argues with Victor in season 4’s premiere, “Box Cutter,” asking “If our reduction is not stereospecific, then how can our product be enantiomerically pure?” he’s staking everything on this three percent difference and his cut-above product. Only the proudest expert could make such a jargon-filled claim seem like an achievement. Would-be business mavens, take note: unless your product or service is top-notch, all the advertising strategies and killer branding in the world won’t take you very far. It all begins with offering something consumers or clients can’t get enough of.
Lesson #2: Follow Your Passion And Believe In Your Vision
Have a goal that you want to achieve and work towards it. No one was able to get what they wanted without first knowing what they were trying to get out of the experience. In any endeavor, you will need direction. Walter and Jesse had an idea of how much money they wanted to make, they may have not originally envisioned their great success, but at least they knew what they were working for.
Vision can be hard to talk about, but it’s important to understand.
When team members believe in the vision of a company, they are much more likely to tie their individual values to that shared vision. This allows them to have a greater sense of ownership and contribution and motivates them to offer new ideas and new ways to help. Your company vision is its inspiration. Your vision is a big, ambitious statement about who you are and what your intention is in the world. It’s forward-looking and descriptive, yet straightforward. It is driven by great leadership — you must not only believe in your company mission, but also live and breathe it. It also drives your company culture and is a tool for guiding your employees and your business decisions.
Walter White is never one to sell himself short or allow his colleagues to be devalued.
When he returns to bargain with Tuco in “Crazy Handful of Nothin’,” he is clear that he expects payment for the beating of Jesse in addition to the agreed-upon price of the product. Confidence in your ability, and the uniqueness of what you’re bringing to the table in a business situation makes you stand out and highlights your indispensability. It also helps prevent people from taking advantage of you if you’re new to the market or entering a larger-scale operation than you’ve previously encountered. There is no particular road map that guarantees success, however there are routes you can take in order to achieve success. Build a system that works, adjust as necessary, but be sure to stick to the core of the plan. Walter and Jesse knew what was required of each of them.
A vision is more of a destination.
When you set your vision, think about what you want to be when your business is all grown up. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers now — many entrepreneurs don’t. But a vision is important because it sets a direction for you and those around you. There are many people out there who’ll want to be with your business because they share a similar vision for themselves. Maybe they’ll see you as a vehicle for how they’ll achieve their own goals. Maybe they don’t want to run a company, but they want to be part of one that aspires to be a world leader, socially responsible, an innovator, or any of the many things you might envision for your company.
Besides, passion is what drives you to succeed because you are completely dedicated to making your business work no matter how hard the process may be.
A lot of aspiring entrepreneurs do not have a passion for their businesses. They do not even have the passion for making money. They just like the idea of success. Without having some sort of passion driving you, you will not survive as an entrepreneur because the grind of building a business will take a toll on you emotionally, mentally, and physically. This can be very tough to overcome without having a purpose or passion driving you forward. Your passion should drive you to excel no matter how difficult the journey towards success may become. It may seem like it is not worth it while you’re knee-deep in the process of reaching there, but the payoffs will eventually justify the problems that you had to endure and the sacrifices you made.
Lesson #3: You Should Never “Go at it Alone”
Nothing is impossible when you have the right team around you. As flawed as they were as individuals, Walter and Jesse were successful together because they each brought different skills to the table, they divided up the tasks and they trusted each other to deliver on their responsibilities. On their own, neither one of them would have survived two weeks in the meth business but together, they thrived for years and built a multi-million dollar enterprise.
Build a strong team, no one ever made it on their own.
To run a business, it takes an immense amount of work and dedication. As the dynamic meth duo showed us, nothing is impossible without having the right people around you. The reason Walter and Jesse were successful is that they worked well together. Taking the full responsibility of running a business upon yourself is a huge responsibility. Divide up the work and hold each other accountable, these two worked well together because they each expected so much out of each other and pushed themselves in order to get things done.
Walter White learned the hard way to pick his business partners carefully.
After a few run-ins with local dealers, Walt took his product to Gus Fring. On the outside, Gus seemed like a perfect fit. He was polite, careful and professional. But under that calm demeanor, Walt soon learned Gus’ pragmatism could be brutal. Before hopping into a business relationship, make sure to do your homework. Just because someone seems like the perfect fit for your startup on paper doesn’t mean they’ll be the right one down the road. Whether you’re hiring employees, taking on partners or finding investors, it’s important to find people you can trust.
Relationship management is important not just between you and your suppliers, it matters regardless of whether you’re high up or down below in the supply chain.
In the context of Breaking Bad, risks are sky-high and your business partner could make or break your business. There is no need for you to chase things to the extreme like Walt, but certain expectations need to be made clear at the very beginning. As the dynamic meth duo showed us, nothing is impossible when you lay out job scopes and responsibilities clearly from the start. Walt and Jesse divided up the work and held each other accountable. When managed properly, your team will put in an immense amount of work and dedication it takes to grow your business.
It is important in business that you understand your own strengths and weaknesses.
And know when to find someone who can help fill in the gaps in your knowledge — either through coaching, partnering, or hiring someone to do it for you. Walt and Jesse also partnered with other people along the way who helped them to grow their business. Walt understood he could never make enough money on his own. Unfortunately, he ended up partnering with people who didn’t have his best interests at heart. First Tuco Salamanca and then Gustavo Fring. While your own potential businesses partner probably won’t be willing to kill you to get ahead, it is important to do research before partnering with another company or individual.
Lesson #4: A Little Luck Never Hurts
No one ever made it on their own and without luck. Although every successful person would love to take all the credit for their success, they can’t. Luck plays a role in many people’s business ventures. You need a little bit of luck to get you through the rough times. Walter and Jesse found themselves in a few tight situations throughout the show and if it weren’t for luck, they wouldn’t have been able to get out of these predicaments.
Many successful people acknowledge that luck is a factor in business, including Sir Richard Branson.
The fruits of Walter White’s labors certainly could never have come without all the hard work and risky moments that came along the way, but there’s an element of luck involved here that can’t be denied. What would have happened if he and Jesse were unable to get the RV started after being stuck in the middle of the dessert and on the verge of dying of thirst? It’s little things like this that can turn a bad situation into a triumph, especially in tense business scenarios. You can, of course, never bank on luck, but there’s no arguing with the fact that it often becomes a factor.
Legendary pro golfer Gary Player once said, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”
Get up. Get there. Be present. When you are present in the moment, you have prepared yourself for luck to come your way. Preparation and luck go hand in hand. Many of my “luckiest” moments happened because I was first in line. To be lucky in business you must give yourself a chance. You have to play the game to be a winner and plenty of people don’t bother. They take themselves out of the game before it begins. Recognize that only players win and you will “find” more “luck” in business.
No matter what you try, you will fail sometimes.
The trick is to overcome your fear of failure, so as to have many more opportunities to succeed. Each day, give yourself a little reward for winning the failure game–making 10 failed sales calls, or making the effort to do 10 seemingly fruitless introductions. This attitude also stops you from resting on your laurels. If you have a big victory on any particular day, you still need to go out and fail a few times to win the game. Whether you call it karma, or simply the notion that people like to help people who have been good to them in the past, the notion that no good deed goes unpunished is simply wrong. In the long run, focusing on helping others achieve their goals often opens new opportunities for you.
It’s critical that businesses are ready when the opportunity strikes.
Though there may be a great deal of luck in the essence of timing, the businesses that are able to take advantage of opportunities are those that are ready to do so. Most of what happens in business is that opportunities are missed not because a business in unlucky, but rather because they are unprepared. Be open to looking in places that you wouldn’t expect to find amazing employees or business partners. Don’t be shy about asking people that you gel with if they’re interested in working with you, even if they’ve already got a job. This greatly increases your chances of finding the spark that could lead you to business success.
Lesson #5: If You Can’t Decide, You Won’t Succeed
Throughout the fast paced six seasons, Walter White was continually forced to adapt to changing circumstances and make decisions. When Gus hired a hit man to kill Walter in Season 3, the only thing that saved him was his clever last minute call to Jessie. Armed with the address of Gale Boetticher (the chemist that Gus had hired to replace them), Jessie was then forced to put a bullet into Gale’s head.
If ego isn’t Walter’s biggest character flaw, it’s his pride. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having pride.
Pride can certainly be a good thing, provided its aimed in the right direction and expressed for the right reasons. No matter what challenges, setbacks, or failures you face in your professional career, you have two possible solutions: lose hope and give up, or put on your thinking cap and figure out a way to tunnel yourself free, in whatever way possible. Nothing is ever truly hopeless if you’re determined enough. Never underestimate the power of creativity and resolve.
The anticipation leading up to whatever is happening in your life is often better than the anticipated event.
Walter said in Breaking Bad, “I came to realize that fear is the worst of it. That’s the real enemy.” One of his more straightforward life lessons to us, these words ring true. We fear not only what we don’t understand, like death, but things we know will be unpleasant. If nothing will change the outcome, anticipating or worrying about it only makes it worse. So as hard as it is, we should try to suppress the amount of worrying we do. For happy anticipation, it also might be better to suppress it, because then you avoid letdowns of things you have built up in your head. Plus, why would anyone want the anticipation to be better than the actual event?
Keep in mind that your gut instinct usually has the right answer.
When you’re faced with tough decisions; get in touch with what your gut is telling you, take time out to reflect peacefully on your options (avoid getting stressed about the wrestling process), develop a clear mind by breathing deeply, shut off the conflicting voices in your mind, cut out all trivial distractions, simply be at peace about your dilemma and over time, the answers will come to you. For all the sleepless nights and time spent in futile mind-wrestling, your gut instinct generally holds the right answer for you from the outset. It’s a deep and powerful voice which confirms what is right and wrong and when we go against our gut, we feel uneasy, unsettled and undecided, (even if we think we’ve definitely made our decision).
One of the key traits of an impactful and effective leader is the ability to make great decisions, even in difficult or high-pressure situations.
Strong businesses don’t get built in Silicon Valley or Palo Alto; they’re built between a rock and a hard place. Oftentimes, you have to make a difficult decision between two equally bad options. This is how you make the best choice when you’re in a dilemma. When you make a decision, you’re setting your priorities. Priorities create focus and focus creates forward momentum. Whatever the business, imperfect data is a fact of life. There’s no clear arrow pointing to the right choice — but you still have to make a choice. Accept that you might make mistakes and learn from them. The worst possible thing a business owner can do is be indecisive. In the face of decision fatigue, indecision feels natural, even safe. If you don’t make a decision, you can’t make a mistake. But choosing indecision is a decision. It’s a decision to neglect your duties as a business owner.
Breaking Bad might be the story of one man’s moral decay, but that man is also running a business. It’s no secret that Walter White made a fair amount of business mistakes throughout the course of Breaking Bad, but it’s also difficult to argue with the fact that he was the show’s most successful entrepreneur in many ways, surpassing even Gustavo Fring in many ways. Surprisingly enough, his numerous mistakes can help you avoid common pitfalls in your own life.
Walter White was a shining example of a guy determined to tie up loose ends with that one objective in mind.
While I’m not suggesting a life of crime is the way to go, there are some things we can learn from the man known as Heisenberg when it comes to blazing our own trails and pursuing our goals with unstoppable determination. Regardless of what everyone else expects of you, regardless of what you think you should be doing, what’s your real driving force? If you’re not clear on that, or you’re chasing something else but pretending you’re clear on it, even the most successful of careers won’t ultimately make you happy. It’s your choice. Which way are you going to break?
Breaking Bad is poignant, provocative and powerful on many levels.
And the genius of the show is this — despite all his shortcomings, killings, and character flaws, Walter While has longevity and likeability as both a character and successful business man. When it comes to learning how to grow your business, these lessons from the Walter White School of business, are a whole lot more applicable, memorable and engaging than a boring, introductory business book. Breaking Bad may have been created primarily for entertainment purposes, but the lessons inherent in the show are what will make it live on for many years to come.
Take these lessons to heart, and you might just find yourself climbing the ladder more quickly in your professional or personal life.
No matter what you take from the show, though, or whether or not you even care to ponder life’s mysteries, Breaking Bad will have you doing so, at least a little. Did you learn any important life or business lessons from Breaking Bad? Did you learn anything from this fictional tale, or change your view on any aspect of life? Or a different TV show? Share your story in the comments below, I’d appreciate to read your thoughts.
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.