Business Growth Lessons from “The Americans”

by | May 2, 2018

Over the past year, I’ve watched all past seasons of the show “The Americans”; and if you follow the show, you know that the last season began a few weeks back on FX.  The show centers on two Russian spies who were sent to America during the Cold War. They have integrated into American society as a married couple and have had two children.  In this post, I am not sharing insights on the business success tips of the Russian spies, although there probably are some in the story.  My thoughts come from the recent focus on the small travel agency they own.  In past seasons, the travel agency has been ancillary – it’s what everyone thinks they do for a living and supports their lifestyle.  Last year, the male character gave up the spy work and began running the travel agency in earnest.   As this season began, it was clear that the travel agency had grown and expanded its space and employees.  He is trying to work “on” the business by handing off his client relationships to others in the office.  As a result, they lost a long time customer.  He is seen trying to motivate the team by highlighting what one employee has done to up-sell a cruise package and why that up-sell was valuable to the business.  The employees are seen looking at him somewhat blankly.  He is frustrated that no one else seems to want to or understand how to build the business.  Many of us have been there…

In the most recent episode, he asks a friend:  “In business, there’s always this pressure for growth.  If you’re not growing, you’re not succeeding.  But why?  What is so bad about staying the same – not taking on more responsibility, more headaches, more time?”  It’s an excellent question and I was once asked exactly the same thing by an employee a number of years ago.  At the time, I didn’t really have an answer.  Over time, I came to the opinion that I wanted to do something impactful.  I wanted to build something that made a difference to businesses, that helped them be more successful and that the impact I could make alone was very limited.  Growing something with longevity was necessary.

At our recent FOCUS event with Jill Sherensky, another way to think about this came to me:  What is “success”?  The definition of “success” to any one of us means something different and our desire for “growth” is based upon what we want and what “success” means to us.  In the words of the FBI agent friend in the show, “The more you want, the more you get…and that’s both good and bad.”  Knowing what you want drives your success in getting more of just that!