AMC’s Mad Men just isn’t one of the greatest shows on TV for nothing. Set in a New York advertising agency at the start of 60s, Mad Men (Short for Madison Avenue – The iconic NY street that houses many ad agencies) is populated by a disparate collection of executives, secretaries, typists and mothers and their lives and workplace dynamics.
And while the series deals with its share of evils of the times like infidelity, alcoholism, corporate politics etc. here are the most important positive lessons from the show.
1. Your co-founder and boss can be whacky, and yet inspiring.
Even in his deep 60s, Roger Sterling could give the snappiest yippie types a run for their pocket money with his dapper looks and spunk. Who even in his half-inebriated insouciance could whip up one liners wittier and faster than Seinfeld. Now he’s a guy we’d love to have for a grandpa, or in case of Roger Sterling, a sugar daddy.
Get a sample of some his genius:
“Maybe every generation thinks the next one is the end of it all. Bet there are people in the Bible walking around, complaining about kids today.” (S1, E4)
“I’m glad everybody can make it sound like they’re working so hard.” (S1, E5)
“When a man gets to a point in his life when his name’s on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.” (S1, E7)
2. It’s possible to go against the odds.
Peggy Olson battles against the gender stereotypes of the 60s, ultimately rising from the socially acceptable post of secretary to the rather less usual position of copywriter and kicks some serious ass in the agency. And this is when you know she’s not about to take bullshit from anyone. Including her boss.
Roger Sterling: Get me some coffee, will you?
Peggy Olson: No.
3. You can have a sense of humour at work
No matter how grim the situation is, how much money is at stake or who the stakeholder is, you can lighten up the situation with a sense of humour. Not only can you deal with it better, but earn a friend or a client with the funnies. Here’s a few gems by Roger Sterling, of course.
“I told him to be himself. That was pretty mean, I guess.”
“She died like she lived: surrounded by the people she answered phones for.”
4. Family troubles? Drink. Stressed? Drink. Entertaining clients. Drink.
Probably acceptable in the 60’s, but the amount of drinking not only permissible, but heavily encouraged in the Mad Men office makes you want to come to work, and never need to hit a pub ever after.
5. Your office manager can be a seductive but confident woman
Joan Harris is Sterling Cooper’s office manager, whose Marilyn Monroe-esque appearance belies a character of genuine strength and intelligence. Her hold on everything going on at office, with the grace and charm that only she could pull off, makes you want to be ordered around by her. And this was one of the most important life advices she gave to Peggy
“You want to be taken seriously. Stop dressing like a little girl.”
6. There’s no beating around the bush
If you think a copy is crappy, you shoot your mouth off. There’s no formalities, no jargon that reeks of an MBA throwback and no unnecessary kowtowing to your seniors. You can tell your boss his strategy sucks, if it does.
7. Your team is like your family.
They’re with you in moments happy and sad. A pregnancy of a wife of a colleague or a death of one, is celebrated and mourned just like a family member’s. When your boss reaches out to you in moments of your despair, and never once says a word about it, even to you, you know you’ve hit a personal gold in a professional mayhem.
8. The client really want you to research and have fun while at it
When your client wants you to review a hotel in Hawaii they send you to live in that hotel in Hawaii. Take that, 150 word briefs, companies of today’s world.
9. You can get a drink with your office buddies after a hard day at work
Your colleagues could be your best buddies after-hours. You could catch a drink at a pub and discuss a strategy for tomorrow’s meeting or soothe the broken heart of a colleague, but it’s always fun and reassuring that office relationships don’t end once you walk out of that door.
10. When you do well at your job, you are rewarded and well.
Don moved on to be a partner. Pete became a partner. Joanne became a partner. If you do well, you go up the ranks. Hard work, and most importantly results matter, not the behind-the-doors relationships or social obligations.
11. Office Parties look like this. Enough said.
12. You’re inspired by genius all around.
A random example, consider the moment in the last episode of season one, in which Don Draper is given the task of re-branding a rotating slide holder, which his client, Kodak, had unimaginatively christened ‘The Wheel’. In the presentation meeting, Draper flips through a series of slides of his family, while delivering the following monologue:
“It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel, it’s called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
13. Letting employees be can be rewarding
Inspiration doesn’t always come from boring seminars or lectures by the experienced guys. You don’t always have to attend a powerpoint presentation to learn a new skill. Just let your employee be within reasonable realm of law and order to explore their creative side. Let their own apple fall on their head.
And finally, you get to be in close quarters with THAT.
Don’s alpha-male status and apparently unshakeable self-confidence make him a force to be reckoned with in the corporate environment, and in most instances he’s the character responsible for thinking up and selling big ideas to his blue chip clients. He’s reticent, suave and just the right bit proud of his stature. He’s half the reason you come to work, and what he inspires in you is the other half.
And this is one sample of his genius.
Roy: So, what do you do, Don?
Don: I blow up bridges.
Midge Daniels: Don’s in advertising.
Roy: No way. Madison Avenue? What a gas!
Midge Daniels: We all have to serve somebody.
Roy: Perpetuating the lie. How do you sleep at night?
Don: On a bed made of money.
For more lessons, and “wish you worked during the times of Mad Men” moments, go watch the show. Most importantly have your boss watch it.