Thu 31 Mar 2016 | By:

4 Things an Entrepreneur can Learn From the Three Stooges

4 Things an Entrepreneur can Learn From the Three StoogesYou have to look beyond the eye-pokes, face slaps, and crazy antics but every entrepreneur can learn a great deal from the Three Stooges.

I know what you must be thinking, I must have been hit over the head with a hammer by Moe. But as a connoisseur of the Stooges and a successful entrepreneur, I have studied their movie shorts and have “connected the dots” to come to this conclusion. In my childhood, Saturday and Sunday mornings were specifically blocked out so that my brothers and I could watch the “The Shhh Show” which featured the classic Three Stooges shorts.

And yes, that was really the name of an early morning kids show which ran in my hometown of Rochester, NY. It was called the “The Shhh Show” because they told you to turn down the volume so your parents could sleep in.

It wasn’t until I began to play the Stooges shorts for my daughters and really studied the plots did it occur to me that behind the goofy and unmatched hilarity was a very real message. One that firmly embraced the entrepreneurial spirit, in spite of the pie fights and whacks to the head with a sledge hammer. So here are the 4 entrepreneurial lessons that the Three Stooges taught.


1) Difficult and turbulent economic times still offer an opportunity for entrepreneurial success [Recommended Stooges Short: Slippery Silks (1936)]

The Stooges’ early shorts were written and produced in the middle of the Great Depression and while Europe was engulfed in a horrible war with Hitler’s Germany. Many of the story lines used these difficult times as a backdrop and followed a reoccurring theme – the Stooges, down on their luck with all the odds against them, are the eternal optimists, and are willing to take a chance at running a business, being door to door salesmen or otherwise trying to change their fortunes.

Waiting for ideal conditions before launching an entrepreneurial dream is a self imposed barrier. The best time to start and register a new business is always now, I know this because we started our business in one of the worst economic time periods – 1983! The economy was stagnant, inflation was out of control, and interest rates were over 20%, and most people thought conditions were definitely not ideal. Yet, there was no reason to wait because we were driven by the motivation to follow our dream.

Plus, plenty of American business successes came during difficult economic periods, even in the Great Depression and the recent Great Recession of 2008. GM, Ford, Apple, H-P, Microsoft, and Walt Disney were all founded in the middle of a depression or recession. Moe, Larry, and Curly just like Henry, Steve, and Bill forged ahead with their entrepreneurial dream because they eliminated all the psychological barriers created by the fear of a bad economy.


2) When opportunity presents itself, embrace risk and grab it [Recommended Stooges Short Hoi Polloi (1935)]

No one was more of an opportunist than the Stooges. Whenever there was a chance to make money or improve their lives, the Stooges fearlessly went for it. Even if it meant stepping outside their comfort zone.

In Hoi Polloi the normally crass and lowbrow Stooges must become gentlemen and present themselves in high society in order to win $100. Clearly this was a huge challenge for them to undertake and required a total commitment to change. (What were the chances for a trademark Stooges pie fight amongst the high society crowd – 100%.)

Fear of change is the biggest impediment to long term success for any business. To meet the competition and the ever changing demands of consumers we are compelled to embrace change. Without change we put our entrepreneurial dream in danger of becoming irrelevant and jeopardizing its survival. In the case of the Three Stooges they were asked to make a complete, quite dramatic 180-degree change, yet recognized the value of the change – $100, a substantial sum of money in the 1930’s. In contrast, to keep our businesses moving forward, we typically only need to make subtle changes in an effort to improve our value to customers.


3) Marketing is the fuel that powers the engine [Recommended Stooges Short How High is Up (1940)]

The Three Stooges knew the power of marketing, even though their methods were usually as unorthodox as you might expect. In an age when commercial television was just being developed, radio was still in it’s infancy, and newspapers were the most powerful media the Stooges relied on the simplest form of social media – shouting their message to pedestrians as they either ran or rode down the street in a work truck.

Without a commitment to a proactive marketing strategy your business is going nowhere. The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is failing to invest for the long term. Marketing is not an on-demand function it requires consistency and diligence because your prospect’s need to purchase may not align with your need to sell. Unfortunately for the entrepreneurial Three Stooges, the products or services they delivered, were not usually of the highest quality.


4) Entrepreneurial success means teamwork and knowing your role [Recommended Stooges Short Punch Drunks 1934]

The Three Stooges were a team and each stooge played a definitive role which created the most successful comedy troupe of the 20th Century. Moe was the leader and therefore dealt out most of the punishment. Larry was the straight man, usually caught in the middle of Moe and Curly’s antics. Curly was the clown and took the brunt of Moe’s whacks, smacks and eye-pokes. What made the Three Stooges so successful for so long (1934 until they finally retired in 1969) was each understood they had a specific role and were responsible for meeting the expectations of their audience.

Successful leadership promotes a clear delineation of roles and establishes a process of accountability for each team member. While a bash to the noggin with a hammer is obviously a bit extreme, the central point is the team suffers, and therefore the business, when a responsibility is not fulfilled. A team functions most efficiently when roles are established, responsibilities are clearly set, and every member commits to the timely execution of their duties.

Inspiration and education can come from unlikely sources and certainly the Three Stooges is about as unlikely as any. However, with an open mind, an hour or so of commitment, and maybe an adult beverage, a business lesson courtesy of the Stooges will show you that entrepreneurs can learn a great deal from the Three Stooges – “Soitenly!”

About Tom Panaggio

Tom Panaggio, author of The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur's Unexpected Edge, has enjoyed a 30-year entrepreneurial career as co-founder of two successful direct marketing companies. As a result, he can give a true perspective on starting and running a small business. His practical approach to business concepts and leadership is grounded in the belief that success is the result of a commitment to embracing risk as a way to ensure opportunity. Find Tom on Facebook and Twitter!