Thursday, November 19, 2015

How is a Successful Entrepreneur Like a Soviet Spy?

My co-editor, Dan Tenenbaum, is often amused by my tendency to draw entrepreneurial lessons from books that seemingly have no connection to business. (In truth, Dan is the guy who frequently inserts the critical sentence in my posts tying everything up with an entrepreneurial bow.) This week I’ve decided to really push the envelope as I leave behind the world of books for the glitter of Hollywood.

As a child of the 60s and a survivor of the Cold War, I was eager to see Stephen Spielberg’s new movie, Bridge of SpiesTom Hanks plays James Donovan, a New York lawyer (with a son just a little older than I was at the time) tapped to represent an undercover Soviet agent arrested on espionage charges. The movie is wonderfully evocative of that time, and James Donovan may be the most inspiring lawyer to hit the screen since Atticus Finch.  (Who knew that Finch has now become a controversial character in some 
circles because he was a “rape apologist”?)

But, to my surprise, Donovan is not the character who makes the deepest impression. Sure, Donovan deals with aplomb with numerous challenges, all the while fretting about worst-case scenarios (as we lawyers are, alas by training, wont to do). It’s his client, Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance), who stands out.

When all seems lost and Abel appears doomed, he maintains a stoic composure that Donovan, the parade of horribles marching through his mind, finds disconcerting. At each critical point in the story, Donovan asks his client, “Aren’t you worried?” To which the spy replies, “Would it help?”

This exchange could have occurred over the years in any number of exchanges between an entrepreneurial client, his or her eyes firmly set on the goal, and his or her lawyer, cast in the role of professional worrier. And that, my friends, is one characteristic that successful entrepreneurs share with Rudolf Abel.

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