4 Business Lessons from… The Underwoods
So if it’s not obvious at this point, I have a soft spot in my heart for absolutely terrible protagonists. Pablo Escobar, Dexter, Walter White… they’ve all got so much more going on than most of the “super-man” type protagonists. It’s what keeps their shows interesting and makes me want to tar and feather myself while watching other shows. So with that in mind, we’re going to be exploring what business/finance lessons can be learned from none other than the most famous couple on Netflix: The Underwoods.
If I were to have written this post a couple years ago, I probably would have mostly focused on Frank. But the show has developed in such a way that you really can’t talk about one Underwood without talking about the other, so today we’re going to focus on the political wonder-couple that is Frank and Claire Underwood.
I’m not going to hold back on this post. If you’re not caught up to season 4, then you bring your family great shame…
Just kidding of course. But seriously, if you’re not caught up to season 4 and want to watch the show, then this article is not for you. Otherwise, continue reading, it’s going to be a fund ride.
Lesson #1 – The more steps ahead you are of the competition, the better.
“House of Cards” is like watching the most intricate, complicated, and violent game of chess you’ve ever seen. The whole show is based on how conniving Frank is after having gotten screwed out of the Secretary of State nomination. The Underwoods were able to maneuver Frank’s way not only to the second highest office in the executive branch, but to the office that made him the leader of the free world. And how did he do that?
In order to get the answer to that question, you need to watch all the way through each season, then sit down with a pad a paper, and map out ALL the shit he did to get to where he wanted to be. For example, season 1 is essentially fucking the administration into passing an education bill so he could gain the President’s trust to choose a suitable candidate for the Governorship of Pennsylvania. Frank suggested a drunk, that he forced into getting sober then shoved off the wagon. He then slyly suggest the VP to run for Pennsylvania, opening up the job which allowed him to take it.
Frank spent a ton of time coordinating, plotting, and scheming to make all these events happen. And let’s not discount Claire’s contributions, without which this plan never would have taken place. But what makes Frank so successful is that he doesn’t just think of the next step. He’s thinking 3, 4, sometimes even 5 steps ahead. So what should we take away from this?…
Thinking one step ahead is never going to be enough. I’ll give you the perfect example: I’m trying to sell some old books that I have on Amazon. This was my first experience trying to sell something on Amazon, and I was super proud of myself. I got my seller account, got my shipping materials, calculated my cost per item, and posted it on Amazon. I even sold one of my books!
But then the worst thing happened: because I priced my book the lowest, ALL the other publishers and sellers lowered their prices too. I literally had nothing to compete on when it comes to price. My mistake was that I didn’t think about the competition: I needed to come up with a way to sell the books that wasn’t just dropping the price till I eroded away all my profit.
This “staying many steps ahead” mentality comes into play dealing with your finances as well. Just as the Underwoods planned many steps to get to the executive branch, so should you when trying to hit financial goals. It’s not enough to budget. What are you going to do with the money you’ve budgeted to save? Are you going to put it in the correct retirement vehicle? Your tax liability might affect where you put the money; do you have a good estimate of your taxes? Do you have a plan for if your boyfriend proposes and you have to pay for a wedding in 2 years? What about children?
I could keep throwing questions at you the way Syndergaard throws pitches, but I think I made my point: just like the Underwoods, you need to be more than 1 step ahead in order to reach your goals.
Lesson #2 – Learn to bite your tongue.
Ok, this one doesn’t have as many financial applications as it does business and life applications, but here it is. People need to learn when they need to keep their mouth shut. I’ve written about this before, and in fact I’m not the only personal finance blogger to talk about this, but check it. We all know there is this mindset around being someone who speaks your mind. Like, “Yeah, I don’t like Mike, so I went up to him and called him out on all his bullshit.”
… Ok. Cool, I guess? Like what the fuck were you planning on accomplishing?
Mike might be a douche, but Frank was fucked out of the Secretary of State nomination. Something that he had been working on for years. YEARS!!! And when it happened, he went home, planned out his strategy, and never let his anger get the best of him or get in the way of his goals. This is why I love the Underwoods; they know exactly what to say, when to say it, how to say it, and they don’t let something as trivial as emotions get in the way of their goals.
This is huge in business. How can you ever expect to get anything out of people (customers, other businesses, politicians, etc.) if you’re constantly on edge and hard to be around? Or what about everyday life? Yeah, your landlord might piss you off a lot by not getting things done on time. But what are you to gain by calling him a lazy piece of shit that you’re going to sue if he doesn’t replace that AC unit? Not much. Honey attracts a lot more flies than vinegar, so use it! Don’t let your mouth get in the way of your goals.
Lesson #3 – Always have a partner.
I’m not the first person to suggest this, but having a partner while undertaking any endeavor is going to help you in the long run, be it business, politics, or finance. Frank and Claire obviously make an incredible team. They’ve done everything from “Good cop Bad cop”, “Charming and More Charming” , and “Bad Cop and Badder Cop”. These two have kissed-ass when there were butts that needed some love, and and kicked-ass when there were some butts that needed to get in line.
The Underwoods work perfectly for a couple of reasons. First, they’re not afraid to tell the other exactly what they think. Claire can be quoted as saying, “I never should have made you President.” Frank has told her that she should wait to be ambassador. The two are not afraid to challenge each other when they think the other is wrong. Second, they compliment each other when it makes sense, and maintain similarity when it makes sense. The two are rarely not united in wanting to achieve their politically ambitious goals, but are ready to play to their strengths when a job needs doing. Finally, neither of the Underwoods shy away from a challenge or take no for an answer. Frank and Claire use extremely unconventional means (like bullying, blackmailing, and murder) to achieve their goals.
There are some businesses out there that are run by partners. Google, Apple, Facebook, Warner Bros., Twitter, and Microsoft are all companies that were started by partnerships. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a large business that wasn’t founded on a partnership. And why? Because accountability and differing ideas are what takes businesses from good to great.
But that accountability doesn’t just apply to the business world. Having a partner to keep you accountable when it comes to your finances could be the difference between you sippin’ on bubbly while chilling in Aruba and working as a cashier till you’re 85 years old. Most of the time, a spouse can act as a great accountability partner. But if you’re looking for help, just ask a friend/relative to keep you on track of your goals.
You’ll be surprised how having someone to answer to will help you to reach your goals.
Lesson #4: Trust. No. One.
The largest mistake that Frank makes throughout the entire series is made obvious in the first 20 minutes of the show. Frank thinks that he can trust the Walker administration to nominate him for Secretary of State, but that plan goes pretty sour for him pretty quick. The entire series is based on his plan to get every single one of them back for what they did.
But this isn’t the first time that Frank was betrayed. He couldn’t trust Zoe Barnes to not dig deeper than she should, so the met the front of a subway train. Frank couldn’t trust Peter Russo to implode quietly, so he liquored him up and let him suck in car exhaust till Peter literally saw Jesus take the wheel. Frank couldn’t even trust his own wife at times. The watershed bill, the U.N. Ambassador nomination, and even her fidelity were compromised because Frank trusted her too much.
Sadly, this lack of trust permeates all walks of life. Think back to Steve Jobs, who was fired from his own company back in 1985. Seems like he couldn’t trust the people that were around him. Or Eduardo Saverin, whose stake in Facebook was shredded from roughly 1/3 to way less than 1%. Money can make people do crazy and somewhat unethical things.
Which brings us to our next point. If you ever have the chance, please watch the show “American Greed” on CNBC. It is an awesome look into the world of money launderers, cheats, crooks, insider traders, and the like. It’ll give you a really good nose for what to look for in financial fraud. Here’s essentially what happens: hard working people often give their money to someone who promises
incredible impossible returns (5-20% a MONTH). They wait to try to pull their money out, and when they do, they learn that there’s absolutely no money left.
Here’s the thing, everyone: when it comes to money, if it seems too good to be true, then START RUNNING IN THE OTHER DIRECTION! Even I have been to presentations, especially for real estate, where the presenter is showing his “Infallible method” to making 100% returns PER DEAL! I encouraged those around me to follow me as I stood up and walked out the door.
Make sure that when it comes to investing your money, that you’re doing it with someone who’s reputable, who keeps their word, and doesn’t make promises on things they couldn’t hope to deliver.
The Underwoods had to learn this the hard way, and I truly hope that you never have to: trust no one. ESPECIALLY when it comes to your money.
4 Business Lessons from… the Underwoods – The Wrap Up
So again, I don’t have the best taste when it comes to protagonists. Actually, I think I have great taste, but the ones I like really aren’t great people. But seeing as I’m someone who loves to find life lessons in strange places, I couldn’t NOT write about my favorite political powerhouse duo. Here’s what we learned from the Underwoods today:
- Stay ahead of the competition – Do more push-ups, eat more spinach, make your teeth whiter, have a firmer hand shake and kiss the shit out of babies when given the chance. Always stay as far ahead of your competition as possible.
- Learn to bite your tongue – All it takes is the wrong phrase to the wrong person and you can fuck yourself out a relationship/job/business partner/lover/whatever. Mind what you say, and remember, running your mouth might make you feel good at the time, but in the end you’ll look like a fucking idiot.
- Always have a partner – It’s so much easier to have someone push you than to push yourself. Partner up when you need something to succeed… but at the same time…
- Trust no one – Even rich and famous people get fucked over sometimes. Be careful who you trust, be it with money, your heart, or your information (I’m looking at you, credit card numbers…)
So what did you think? Do you think that there are some other lessons from “House of Cards” that I should have included? How important do you think these lessons are to business, or personal finance? Is Kevin Spacey NOT the greatest actor who ever lived?!
Be careful, there IS a right answer…
Keep trying to crack the code,