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6 Leadership & Entrepreneurial Lessons from Francis Ford Coppola

francis ford coppala team work

Francis Ford Coppola went to film school without expecting to make feature films. He and his peers knew that breaking into an industry dominated by big name directors wouldn’t be easy. Yet Coppola managed to get into the business through hard work, determination, and pure enthusiasm.

Leaders and entrepreneurs can learn much from Coppola’s industrious career, his commitment to his craft, and his work routines. Follows are a 6 key lessons that can be learned

1. How to Risk: Never Gamble

Before Paramount green-lighted the Godfather 2 Coppola had already invested around a million dollars on sets. While it sounds like a gamble, Coppola didn’t think so. He says, “This notion of me being a risk taker isn’t really so true. It’s just that once we’re making the film we don’t want to stop…in a naïve way we think it’ll all work out.”

Coppola doesn’t think in terms of risk, but rather interest. By following his passion he ignored worry and headache and concentrated on creating a strong film.

Lesson: Leaders and entrepreneurs must ignore risk and pursue their goal. And, of course, they must remember the only real risk, according to Coppola is “to waste your life, so that when you die, you say, ‘Oh, I wish I had done this.’”

2. On Creativity: Ruin Your Books!

Creativity strikes without rhyme or reason and Coppola recommends writing down all your ideas with a time stamp and a description of where you are. Notes frame ideas and can be used as reference points for future projects. Extra information like the date and your location may prove invaluable years later.

Coppola also writes in the margins of books and when he’s done reading them, tears out key passages and pastes them into a notebook where he takes even more notes.

Catalogue your ideas and if inspired with a passage of text, rip it out, print it, copy it out, or write it down. You never know when it will inspire you. Coppala would use his notebooks more than his scripts on his movie sets.

Lesson: Assiduously take notes and collect material that interests you. It can help when you least expect it.

3. How to Make It? Fake It.

Coppola got his start working for Roger Corman who had bought a Russian sci-fi movie. Corman wanted a rewrite and Coppla jumped at the chance though he didn’t speak Russian. When Corman asked if he knew anything about sound, he lied and said he did. Later that night, he went home and read all the microphone instruction booklets he could find. And when Corman asked him to wash his car he did that too. Coppola rose to all challenges (both big and small) so he could work within the industry he loved.

Lesson: It’s fine to fudge the truth and learn on the job—and no job is too petty if you’re doing what you love.

4. On Decision Making: Have a Theme

Like leaders and entrepreneurs, directors have to make a million decisions everyday—some tiny, some huge. And Coppola found that he didn’t always have an answer. To remedy the problem Coppola decided to let the theme of his projects guide each of his decisions. Coppola says, “I remember in The Conversation, they brought all these coats to me, and they said: Do you want him to look like a detective, Humphrey Bogart? Do you want him to look like a blah blah blah. I didn’t know, and said the theme is ‘privacy’ and chose the plastic coat you could see through. So knowing the theme helps you make a decision when you’re not sure which way to go.”

Lesson: All decisions should be made with your business identity or brand in mind.

5. Steal! 

Coppola believes in the great artistic tradition of stealing. Coppola knows that whenever an idea is taken it changes in the hands of the owner and becomes unique. Artists, Coppola feels, should be flattered by the imitation. He advises, “Don’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that’s only the first step and you have to take the first step.”

Lesson: Steal with abandon, but don’t begrudge others when they incorporate your ideas.

6. Remember, Work With Teams

Coppola uses ideas from the people he works with. He believes in collaboration, not command and control. “You can make the decision that you feel is best,” Coppola says, “but listen to everyone, because cinema is collaboration.”

Lesson: While you may have the ultimate say, you should always keep in mind the expertise and knowledge of others.



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