Lessons from the Devil

Posted on June 4, 2009

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While traveling, I caught The Devil Wears Prada (2006) on TV late one night in my hotel room. I have to admit, this is not my first time to see this 2006 Comedy/Drama. I have to confess it’s actually one of my favorite guilty pleasures. It’s not a particularly original story, but there were a few elements that really touched me. I know, I know, bear with me.

The plot surrounds the main character, Andy, played by the ‘doe eyed’ Anne Hathaway. She is an aspiring journalist and out of desperation settles as an intern at Runway Magazine (like Vogue). What she discovers is that she is working for the notorious Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the Darth Vader of the fashion world. In the first third of the film, Andy follows the predictable route as the ‘ugly duckling’ stumbling through her job and making a fool of herself while still scoffing at the superficiality of the Runway culture. The second third has her transformed into a supermodel and she starts being successful part of the Runway machine. As expected, the final chapter of the movie has Andy’s world imploding and she finally realizes she has lost herself and decides to walk away from it all. This whole movie is basically a string of Meryl Streep’s masterful performance as an overbearing, larger than life tyrant and Andy changing clothes every 2 minutes. While the movie is pretty simple, it is done very clean, with strong visuals, and an appropriate soundtrack. Overall it was very enjoyable.

There are three things that I took away from the film. The first is the question, how willing are you to compromise to succeed? Are you willing to change your looks, adjust your priorities, and sacrifice your private life? Are you willing to become another person in order to rise in the organization? This may come to a surprise but my answer would be absolutly YES!

The idea of ‘who you are’ is a very fluid concept. In your 20’s and early 30’s, you have no idea who you are and what you are capable of. It’s easier to let immaturity and inexperience define the person you are to become. The fact is we live, work, and play in a world that we do not control and sometimes we do not like. You have to learn to adopt and adapt in any environment in order to gain influence to make real change in the future. Am I suggesting like Andy that you stab your friends in the back and sleep with a stranger? No of course not. But in order to find what you want in life, you have to understand what everyone else wants first. Succeeding in an environment that you hate means you will be that much more equipped when you are in an environment that you love. But you usually have to do the first in order to have the second.

The next big lesson that I learned is that it’s not always good to be nice when you are the boss or manager. Nice let’s people off the hook, makes people feel comfortable, and creates a painless environment. As pleasant as that is, it stunts growth for others. A majority of people only grow when pushed (and sometimes threatened) by the authority. As the head of Runway, Miranda Priestly expected nothing but complete excellence and miracle producing results from her employees. Surprisingly, she usually got it. If you commit yourself to impossible standards, you will always be surprised what you can achieve. It won’t be easy and it will cause pain, but the real juicy stuff of character and leadership is worth it. So if you are a boss, crack the whip a little. If you are an employee, be grateful for a boss that pushes you to and beyond your limits.

The last lesson learned is that life is like fashion. It’s always changing, very bizarre, and never at rest. You can scoff, but you will be left behind. The sooner you embrace the ever changing tools and tactics this changing world has the offer, the farther ahead you will get.

This is not an academy award winning movie by any stretch of the imagination. It is however, a fun and fashionable way to view success and leadership. I probably got more out of this than what was intended by the director- but that’s what creative leadership is all about, finding the fashion out of any momentary fad.

Click here to watch my favorite scene and how Merryl Streep’s performance stole the show.

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