The thoughts and views expressed in this article are not an endorsement of pimps, drugs, or violence but rather meant to foster an appreciation for the Blaxploitation genre through a practical extended metaphor. Dig it? Right on.
Have you ever seen “Willie Dynamite″? It’s a mid-70s Blaxploitation movie full of pimps, drugs, women and money. Not unlike other movies of the era, the main character (Willie Dynamite) balances the elements in relentless pursuit of success amid internal conflict. If you’ve seen one of ’em (think “Shaft,” “Foxy Brown,” “The Mack,” “Dolemite,” etc.), you’ve kinda seen them all, no jive.
We’ve seen the influence of Blaxploitation all over today’s culture, from Tarantino films to music videos and artists alike. Even some styles and slang we see and hear today have origins in the genre. However, while its presence in pop culture may not shock you, it’s real-life business applications are much easier to overlook.
Let’s dig into this scene from the beginning of 1974’s “Willie Dynamite”. On the outside, its a roundtable convo between pimps, but if you’ll look closer you’ll see classic business lessons that can be pulled from the Blaxploitation genre on strategy, leadership, economics and more.
The article is broken up into six sections each with a link to a different part of the scene, but you can watch the entire convo here. (6:35)
Lesson 1: It takes money to make money.
“Cops want double sugar. Well, you can’t find an honest one for shit… It’s inflation baby.”
Here, we see one of the pimps complaining about his business. His aging employees want two-toned afros, leather jumpsuits, and plastic surgery to help them maintain their appeal and keep a steady income. However, all of these things take money out of his pockets, not theirs. To add to that, the crooked cops on the payroll were asking for “double sugar” just to keep the operation going.
Obviously with any business there are operating expenses, which you want to limit as much as possible, but sometimes you have to pay to play and there’s no way around it. Just like property taxes increasing, or employee wages going up, ownership requires biting the bullet, even if you are a pimp.
Lesson 2: Conduct a SWOT analysis.
“We got to get our shit together. That ain’t no business! Look around, everything that is taking care of business is together, dig it? Tight!”
Similar to Fortune 500 companies, the executive leaders have met to address key issues impacting the business. Analyzing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats will always give you a solid snapshot of where you are as a company.
In this case, their current structure is a weakness, which is leading to a lack of efficiency (oversaturation, disorganization) and exposure to external threats (inflation and law enforcement). Bell, the boss, knows if they don’t reel it in and change some things, they won’t be around for long.
Lesson 3: Innovation is key.
“There is a way; we organize. Each of us gets his own turf… and we don’t jam up on each other.”
Innovation is growth. Even successful businesses become archaic if they fail to remain agile.
After presenting the business problem, one of the pimps suggested they “wait it out,” insisting they’d seen “dry turf” and hard times like this before. However, Bell had a better, smarter idea; albeit one that they hadn’t tried before. Though it involved teamwork, patience, and sacrifice, it was built to sustain the organization, as a whole, long-term.
If you can remain open to new ideas and quick on your feet, you can save a sinking ship. Slow money is always better than no money.
Lesson 4: Capitalism vs. Socialism
“But… who’s gonna do the dividing? I thought we was all capitalists. Free enterprise, ya dig? Some dudes got big stables… They deserve any area they can control.”
While most of the group is down with the new approach, Willie has some reservations. It’s not uncommon for employees to resist change, especially when it fundamentally shifts the core of the business.
Pimps are capitalists, self-made and entrepreneurial, but Bell’s idea was rooted in socialism. By evenly dividing the turf to lower risk, he also lowered the reward opportunities and Willie wasn’t trying to hear that. Major shifts like these require an “all-in” attitude and one bad apple can spoil the bunch.
Lesson 5: Centralized vs. Decentralized Organizational Structure
“Well, I respect your ambition Willie but you’ve got to have vision! … Alone, you’re always gonna have to take the risk.”
In opposition to Bell’s plan, Willie boasts that his team “selected to win” and strong enough to continue business as usual. He has very little fear and resists the idea of taking a backseat on the issue.
Organizational structure matters. Some companies have a centralized structure while others take a decentralized approach. The former places a lot of emphasis on balance and control from the top while the latter is much more flexible and relies on contributions many individuals.
By now, I’m sure you know who was on each side of the coin.
The important thing here is to know which type you are, and stick to it because you can’t do both. It’s better to whole-ass one thing than to half-ass two things.
Centralized vs. Decentralized
Lesson 6: Know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
“I like the competition… I gotta split.”
This is the crux of the debate. In the end, Willie decides against Bell’s idea and leaves the group, with dreams of become the top pimp in the city by himself. Willie wanted to captain his ship and have more control over his own career.
In life, we won’t always see eye-to-eye with our employees, bosses, or the companies we with. No one but you can tell you if/when it’s time to move on. When you know, you just know. The best thing to do is gather information and make an informed decision that suits a strong plan.
Willie certainly had a plan, but in cinematic fashion, it didn’t work. As the movie plays out, we see Willie’s life spiral out of control, as greed nearly leads to his demise. I won’t spoil the movie so you’ll have to check it out yourself for more details. I’ll leave you with this, though.
As I mentioned, this is about more than just an argument between some pimps, or even the Blaxploitation era as a whole. It’s about life, and as long as art imitates life (and vice versa) there will always be something to learn from every corner of our culture.
So, next time you’re in a situation that requires some quick-footed business savvy, don’t be surprised if a Willie Dynamite quote pop into your head.
Cool-city, champ? Aight, I gotta split.
-Troy Harris II (originally written for Grits & Gospel)
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