Photo of T-shirt that reads, "Your Mom Goes To College"

Pop Culture Incorporated: Lessons in Teamwork from “Napoleon Dynamite”

We intro­duced our daugh­ters to “Napoleon Dyna­mite” in all its dorky, gawky, quotable glo­ry over the week­end. Trust me, if you haven’t worked “Your mom goes to col­lege” or “Gimme some of your tots” into a con­ver­sa­tion late­ly, you’re miss­ing out.

But it’s more than just an enter­tain­ing flick. While it’s most­ly about an awk­ward Ida­ho out­sider find­ing his own path through school and his dys­func­tion­al fam­i­ly, it also reveals some basic lessons about teamwork.

At first, it seems like inter­act­ing with oth­er peo­ple might be the last thing Napoleon wants, or is capa­ble of. He imme­di­ate­ly makes it pret­ty clear what a lone wolf (or maybe a lone liger) he is, declar­ing his inde­pen­dence with his first line in the flick: A kid on the school bus asks him what he’s going to do today, and Napoleon frus­trat­ed­ly responds, “What­ev­er I feel like I want to do. GOSH!”

Napoleon is a liv­ing, mouth-breath­ing exam­ple of the impor­tance of being your­self and danc­ing to the beat of your own drum. Or in Napoleon’s case, danc­ing to some sort of not-yet-invent­ed weird thing that only slight­ly resem­bles a per­cus­sion instrument.

But as the movie unfurls and Napoleon starts to inter­act with his class­mates and fam­i­ly, some sim­ple team­work lessons emerge, that – GOSH! – even busi­ness­es can take to heart. Here are three of the flip­pin’ sweetest:

Con­nect. Napoleon starts to shift ever-so-slight­ly away from his solo approach when he makes two friends: Pedro and Deb. Improb­a­bly, his weirdo broth­er Kip and his sur­pris­ing­ly not-fake online girl­friend LaFawn­duh hit it off. Even sleazy Uncle Rico teams up with Kip to sell a Tup­per­ware knock-off. They’re awk­ward con­nec­tions, but con­nec­tions nonethe­less, and lay the ground­work for some good old-fash­ioned teamwork.

Con­tribute. Pedro’s cam­paign for class pres­i­dent offered every­body an oppor­tu­ni­ty to add some­thing to the mix. Deb sup­plied the cam­paign-swag key­chains and Pedro’s styl­ish wig. Napoleon drew the cam­paign posters. LaFawn­duh pro­vid­ed the music for Napoleon to dance to and win over the stu­dent body. Even Pedro’s cousins lent a hand, sup­port­ing the candidate’s cam­paign promise to pro­tect the lit­tler stu­dents from bul­lies. (“Pedro offers you his protection.”)

Col­lab­o­rate. The biggest les­son in team­work comes from the movie itself. With a micro­scop­ic bud­get of $400,000, every­body pitched in – by neces­si­ty. John Hed­er wove prop key­chains between scenes and drew almost all of Napoleon’s works of art. The pro­duc­er also edit­ed the movie – in his apart­ment on a Mac. Lack of resources doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean a lack of results: The movie earned $45 mil­lion in the U. S. alone.

By the time Pedro wins the pres­i­den­cy, Napoleon and Deb play teth­erball, and the cred­its roll, there’s no ques­tion that when these indi­vid­u­als worked togeth­er, they built some­thing that’s greater than the sum of its weird parts.

A movie that deliv­ers both endurable catch­phras­es and action­able tips on team­work? Lucky!

Leave a Reply

Graphic with coffee cup and woman's headshot
What’s Brewing? with Jamie Taets, CEO of The Keystone Group
May 17, 2022
Five people pose standing. The man in the middle holds a trophy
Bellmont Partners Takes Home MN PRSA Classics Win
May 13, 2022
Graphic with headshot announcing promotion
Bellmont Partners Promotes Julie Goulette to Assistant Account Executive
May 12, 2022
Woman takes a selfie in front of a harbor with the Duluth Liftbridge in the background
Bridget Nelson Monroe Named One of Ragan and PR Daily’s 2022 Top Women in Communications
May 3, 2022
What's Brewing image with Bob and Dave from Sustainable Safari
What’s Brewing? With “Safari Bob” Pilz and Dave Harvey from Sustainable Safari
April 21, 2022
A hand holds a digital calendar on a desk with a cup of coffee and a cell phone
Values-Based National Holidays — Marketing Fodder or Tacky Virtue Signaling?
April 20, 2022