Five Lessons Your Business Can Learn from This Year's Oscar Winners

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Last night the stars came out for Hollywood's biggest night. From Jennifer Lawrence's stumble on the Red Carpet, Jared Leto's poised, tear-jerking speech dedicated to his mother, or <em>20 Feet From Stardom </em>singer Darlene Love singing a rousing rendition of a gospel song during her acceptance speech, the 86th Academy Awards, didn't disappoint.

Last night the stars came out for Hollywood's biggest night. From Jennifer Lawrence's stumble on the Red Carpet, Jared Leto's poised, tear-jerking speech dedicated to his mother, or 20 Feet From Stardom singer Darlene Love singing a rousing rendition of a gospel song during her acceptance speech, the 86th Academy Awards, didn't disappoint.

In addition to offering entertainment value, the 2014 Oscars offered lessons learned for businesses. Here are five take-away's from the Academy Award winners that you can apply to your business.

1. Evolve: "All right, all right, all right." Matthew McConaughey has come a long way since he uttered that now famous line in his role as 20-something high-school girl-chasing David Wooderson in 1993's Dazed and Confused. While McConaughey earned fame over the next 20 years for his playboy rom-com roles, he decided to separate himself from his character actor in recent years, holding out for important roles. Last year he reinvented himself when he took on the role of Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club, an inspired-by-true-events story of an AIDS-infected rodeo cowboy who smuggles experimental drugs into the U.S. to sell to other HIV patients. The role, in which he lost 50 pounds, won him an Oscar for Best Actor.

In today's ever-changing world, customers' increasing needs, and ever-expanding channels, adaption is necessary for survival. Just like Zappos moved beyond shoes to focus on the customer experience, businesses must determine all the places where there is potential for customer interaction and creatively and collectively decide and implement the processes and strategies for improving and meeting those needs. How is your business evolving its current offerings?

2. Be Transformative: In Dallas Buyer's Club, Jared Leto's transformative performance--both vocally and physically--as Rayon, a transgender woman struggling with HIV, won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Leto reportedly lost between 30 and 40 pounds for the role, met with transgender people to better understand the challenges, and spent a lot of time in heels and makeup.

Becoming a transformative business leader takes similar commitment. A transformative organization seeks to change the system by which it operates; they frequently challenge existing interests, norms, values, social practices, and relationships. Transformative businesses motivate change within their organization and keep that change moving forward. How will you motivate change in your company?

3. Break the boundaries: As a child in Mexico City, Alfonzo Cuarón watched the Apollo moon landings on TV, dreaming of one day becoming either an astronaut or a filmmaker. Last night Cuarón won for best director for Gravity. No one has attempted to make an entire movie in simulated microgravity before, but Cuarón believed that if they could, he'd be able to refine cinema. He set a movie in space and pushed CG capabilities by recording the actors' faces and then created the worlds around them. "Placing the story in space immediately made it more expansive and offered immense metaphorical possibilities," Cuarón said in an interview.

For companies looking to innovate, it means exploiting new technology and employing out-of-the-box thinking to generate new value and to bring about significant changes to business and with their customers' experiences. Every organization and business is feeling the impact of globalization, technological and customer revolutions. How are you breaking boundaries through innovation?

4.Fill a Need; Find a Niche: The "Best Original Song" category was tight this year, with contenders like "Ordinary Love" from U2 and "Happy" by Pharrell Williams going head to head. Although Frozen's "Let it Go" won, Williams showed that claiming stake in a genre that no one else is claiming has its benefits. Sunday's New York Times declared that Williams is "taking an old idea...and, with a touch of panache and a willingness to look slightly out of place, make it seem utterly new. He makes the familiar seem idiosyncratic."

A common path to success for businesses is finding and establishing a niche market. Look on the fringes for specific products or services that fill the unmet needs of specific customer groups. It starts with conventional segmentation of the market, breaking down consumers by groups that share common lifestyles and interests. Then, it completely re-imagines every aspect of the brand--the brand experience, product mix, content, and marketing. How are you reimagining your brand from how it was originally conceived?

5. Be Fearless: 12 years a Slave, the winner for Best Picture, is undoubtedly one of the most powerful of all the contenders in the Academy Awards. It is an unflinching portrayal of slavery adapted from a book written by the film's main character Solomon Northup. The subject is heavy and the film's brutality is difficult to stomach, but 12 Years A Slave is more than just a recount of a memoir; it's a portrait of tenacity by director Steve McQueen and screenplay writer John Ridley who planned and produced the movie for six solid years after reading the autobiography of Solomon Northup, upon whom the film is based.

Fearless businesses are creative forces in the world. They use disruptive technologies, challenge the status quo, they're unwilling to compromise their principles, master complex skills, and inject energy and innovation into everything they do. Use the strengths of what makes you different to make a difference with your customers. This is the moment to deepen customer relationships to ensure your security and your company's future.

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