12 business lessons from your favorite cartoons

From Bugs Bunny to ‘Finding Nemo,’ here are the skills you learned in your pajamas that you now apply at the office.


As kids, few things are more enjoyable than sitting down to watch cartoons.

I remember waking up at some ridiculously early time on Saturday mornings to catch the Smurfs, which at various times was followed by the Wuzzles, the Snorkels, the Shirt Tails (or was that Sunday?) and many other fine fictional foondangles.

As we grow older and more cynical wise, it becomes clear that these cartoons taught us how to not only be good people, but also good business people.

Want proof? Here you go:

1. Bugs Bunny’s “What’s up, Doc?” — The importance of communication

Kids assume that Bugs Bunny asks Elmer Fudd “what’s up” as a means of taunting, but as we get older we understand that Bugs is teaching us the importance of checking in with our clients and/or customers on a regular basis.

Asking “what’s up” is a simple, yet effective way to show that you’re interested in your customer’s well-being. Of course, one hopes they respond in a far more benevolent manner than Elmer did, but one can assume they will—most of the time.

2. “The Smurfs” — Tap your talents

I recently watched a story about the Smurfs on CBS Sunday Morning and the reporter noted that the Smurf village was organized so that everyone could work based on their talents and abilities. Brainy Smurf did all of the smart people stuff. Smurfette, uh, well, you get the idea.

3. “Finding Nemo” — Lessons from Nemo, his dad, and Dory

There are several lessons from three characters in this move.

There’s Nemo, who teaches us that although we think we know everything—especially when we’re new to a business—it can benefit us to learn from the more experienced. There are a lot of sharks and crazy kids out there.

From Nemo’s dad we learn that appearances aren’t everything. Nemo’s dad, you might recall, is a clown fish who can’t tell a single funny joke. Take the time to get to know people.

Finally, there’s Dory, whose inability to remember anything important causes a number of problems. There’s no harm in writing stuff down, sending yourself an email, or even leaving yourself a voicemail. Forgetting big stuff in a business setting can be awfully dangerous.

4. Jiminy Cricket and Charlotte the spider — The need for a brain trust

One might argue that the main characters in “Pinocchio” and “Charlotte’s Web” are, well, Pinocchio and Wilbur the pig. However, neither character would have gotten far without the wise advice of Jiminy Cricket and Charlotte.

One might also note that both wise mentors were bugs. Kind of interesting, huh? Always listen for wisdom even from those who at first glance may seem insignificant to your plot—or business goals.

5. Sully and Mike of “Monsters Inc.” — Look for new ways to do business

If you’ve watched “Monsters Inc.” you know that it is rife with business ideas. The biggest lesson, though, is that you need to be willing to try new ways of doing things.

Monsters Inc. originally thrived on scaring children, but when Sully and Mike realized that laughter was more powerful, the whole business changed for the better.

6. Ginger the Chicken — All for the team

Sometimes, just like Ginger and her chicken friends, businesses find themselves in what seems to be a no-win situation. It’s easy for one person, or even two, to up and quit, but the best businesspeople will look for ways to bring the entire business out from the shadows. And remember, don’t lose your heads.

7. Tweety Bird and Road Runner — Think fast on your feet Obviously, the Tweety Bird/Sylvester cartoons and the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons taught us how to think quickly on our feet. Businesses that are thriving today are flexible, able to react quickly, and can come up with brilliant situations on the fly—or on the run. Forces much scarier than that coyote are out there in the world of business.

8. “Scooby Doo” — Don’t be afraid to be afraid

Comedian Eddie Izzard notes that Scooby Doo and Shaggy are two of the strangest heroes in the history of the world’s storytelling. They are essentially goofy and what one might call scaredy cats. Yet, we’re always rooting for them because they keep plowing ahead no matter how scared they are.

When you’re running a business, it’s OK to let your employees or co-workers know that tough times are coming, but so long as you keep moving and serve up the Scooby Snacks, your team will continue to follow and respect you.

You may even solve a mystery or two.

9. “Inspector Gadget” — The best technology doesn’t outweigh the best people

Even though the show was called Inspector Gadget, the real heroes of the show were Gadget’s niece, Penny, and her dog, the aptly named Brain.

Although Gadget had new gizmos to play with, and though he thought he was using them to the utmost of his abilities, it was Penny and Brain who saved the day.

Interestingly, it was Gadget who got all of the accolades and who also earned all the wrath of Dr. Claw.

10. “Tom and Jerry” — Endless chasing gets you nowhere

It’s plain to see that “Tom and Jerry” was built around one simple business principle: If all you do is chase your competition, that will end up being all you do.

At some point, separating yourself from the competition needs to be prioritized over chasing after your competition. And don’t always try to eat your competition. Try something entirely new that gets you out of the never-ending cycle.

11. “The Secret of Nimh” — Don’t be afraid to ask for help

The Secret of Nimh was one of my favorite books and movies when I was a kid. How surprising it was to realize that it’s really about asking for help from unexpected sources when you’re running a business.

Mrs. Frisbee asks for help from the great scary owl and from the equally scary rats. In her courageous bid to get aid from those who have skills and knowledge, Mrs. Frisbee is able to save her family.

What resources could call on if you only had the courage to ask?

12. “Shrek” — Going by the book is just a starting point

There are a number of business lessons from “Shrek,” but one of the main ones is that while “going by the book” is a good place to get started, you don’t need to be orthodox about all of the rules and guidelines you learned in business school.

Color out of the lines a bit. Experiment. Look for new and unexpected ways to make your business work.

What other business lessons have you learned from the shows and movies of your childhood?
Marjorie Clayman works for her family’s marketing firm Clayman Advertising, Inc., where she represents the third generation of the Clayman family. She blogs at MargieClayman.com
, serves as the resident librarian at TheBlogLibrary.com, and acts as editor-in-chief of the 12 Most blog, where a version of this story first appeared.

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