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‘Die Hard’ Business School: 3 Common Mistakes McClane Made (and How You Can Avoid Them)

John McClane, of course, is the ultimate badass (and has taught me a lot about marketing!

He foiled a multimillion dollar heist armed with little more than a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and anything he could steal off “terrorists” he’d killed. But no one can doubt that he ran into a few snags along the way.

After my 7,935,624th viewing of Die Hard, I realized that John McClane is the CEO of his own personal small business (primary services: terrorist-killing, world-saving, ass-kicking). I also found three potentially devastating, but common, business mistakes that McClane made that nearly turned him into machine-gun fodder, and that could kill your business, too!

Avoid the firing squad (or getting fired) by learning from his slip-ups!

McClane’s First Mistake: He Was Unprepared

Studies show that the vast majority of office Christmas parties do NOT end in elaborate robberies and explosions. However, not having his shoes on turned out to be a pretty huge obstacle for McClane later that night.

Being prepared – whether you have your presentation mapped out in advance (and I do mean earlier than the night before) or your resume updated in case of an unexpected change in job status – is critical in the business world.

On the positive end, golden opportunities do not come up often, which is part of what makes them so valuable. Heading out the door while the other guy is still getting his shoes on puts you ahead of the game and shows whomever you need to impress that you’ve got it together. So for everyone’s sake, keep your shoes on.

But until you get that golden opportunity, there’s another mistake that you need to avoid…

McClane’s Second Mistake: He Didn’t Make the Best of What He Had

Okay, so maybe McClane couldn’t have known that his wife’s company was about to be taken hostage by machine-gun wielding Germans. Fair enough. That rarely happens where I work, so I can see how some of the new hires are caught a little off guard.

To be fair, McClane does attempt damage control: he dispenses of Tony and takes his shoes. After struggling to fit into them, he whines about how he killed the terrorist with feet smaller than his sister and ditches the footwear in the stairwell.

Although the shoes weren’t ideal, McClane does not make do with what he had and ended up paying the price later (in a scene that I still can’t watch without my eyes half-covered).

In business, you’re not always going to attain the ideal; in fact, you almost never will (and you could probably make a pretty good case that a TRUE ideal doesn’t even exist). You may not snag the number one candidate for a job position or get assigned to the exact project you wanted, but you can’t let a failure to achieve perfect get in the way of appreciating and using what you do have.

The point is not for you to settle for less, but rather to use available resources as a stepping stone on your path to a greater objective instead of rejecting an open hand; avoid the all-or-none mentality.

It’s easy to let pride get in the way of a business decision, which leads us to the third McClane mistake…

McClane’s Third Mistake: Making Decisions Based on Emotion

McClane’s sense of humor is a trait that sets him apart from other too-serious action heroes. Of course, he also has the cliché “save-the-damsel in distress” angle, but it’s all sweet and crap, so we’ll forgive him.

His mistake?

Letting his arrogance get in the way of the job he had to do.

After killing Tony and not stealing his shoes (but he did have a machine gun, ho ho ho), McClane makes himself known on the walkie-talkie by taunting Gruber about having the detonators.


Why inform the competition about its weakness?

Why give away your higher ground?

Because he’d won this tiny battle and wanted to rub it in Gruber’s face.

Later, when Harry D. Ellis offered his negotiation services, Gruber knew McClane was listening in and was therefore vulnerable. If John had kept his big mouth shut, he could have listened in on everything the thieves were saying PLUS have the advantage of the thieves not knowing he was listening who might then let slip important information.

Although it’s impossible and unreasonable to be 100% objective, making decisions based on emotion can make you vulnerable. Instead of flipping out when you’re getting fired, you might be able to snag a positive reference into your next job by keeping it together. Rubbing a promotion into your coworkers face might feel good, but if that coworker is later promoted ahead of you, you’re pretty much screwed.

Can You Do Better Than John McClane?

You can! Or at least, you can avoid some of the mistakes he made and make a Hollywood ending for your company’s bottom line a little more secure.

Do Better Than John McClane: Be Prepared

Two words: Update. Backup.

You never know when a health inspector is going to come knocking on your restaurant door, and there’s no telling when a lightning storm is going to zap your hard drive.

Having important data and contacts up-to-date and backed up in other locations prevents the loss of data from turning into a loss of profits or productivity. This will also help you out when something unexpected breaks down and you need to…

Do Better Than John McClane: Get Creative

You don’t expect you to fix a broken printer with a paperclip and duct tape like MacGyver, but there’s no reason to let operations stop completely while you wait for a new one to get shipped out. You’d be surprised how many resources you can borrow, modify, or trade

If you’ve built a strong, supportive community of friends and colleagues, giant problems can turn into annoying but manageable inconveniences pretty quickly. And for heaven’s sake, please don’t make things worse by failing to…

Do Better Than John McClane: Stay Objective

Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Throw a brief pity party when a huge deal falls through. But YOU are in charge of your company, not your emotions.

Creating relationships are based on expressing positive emotions like enthusiasm, empathy, and joy while alienating potential customers comes from expressive negative emotions like arrogance, pity, and anger.

The excessive involvement of positive emotions (being too enthusiastic to the point of irritation, empathizing to the point of becoming invasive) can make others think you cannot handle your job responsibilities in a professional manner or overstep your boundaries in the relationship.

Save mushy talk for your spouse, and furious tirades for your Xbox Live compatriots. Keep it together, or just…

Okay, it’s time to LET ME HAVE IT!

What do you think of McClane’s mistakes? What other easily-avoidable, but common, business mistakes can you make at work? Any tips on preventing these three mistakes from sabotaging your brand? Sound off in the comments below!

About Jana Quinn

Jana Quinn writes for the Quality Logo Products blog, where she works pop culture references into marketing strategies, uses zombie-related examples to give business writing tips, and suggests off-the-wall but effective uses for personalized promotional products. You can email her at jtropper AT or check out her blog posts.

10 thoughts on “‘Die Hard’ Business School: 3 Common Mistakes McClane Made (and How You Can Avoid Them)

  1. Jana,

    First of all, John McClane is the man!  I hate to talk ill of one one of my heroes growing up.  But you make some great points on the things we could learn from his mistakes.

    Fortunately there are a lot of things we can learn from him too.

    John adapts pretty well to the situation at hand.

    John understands understand that taking action is the only way to achieve success.

    Perhaps most importantly of all John learns from his mistakes.  You notice in all the following die hards…he has shoes!

    • Thanks, Steve! 🙂 I agree that John McClane is absolutely the man.

      Before I even ventured into writing about his mistakes, I wrote two posts on how his strategies were fantastic for marketing and taking action in the business world.

      So I covered my bases before jumping in with the blasphemy. 🙂

      It’s funny that you mention him taking action; that’s what my entire second post was about.

      Great point on including that he has shoes in the next 3 Die Hard movies… perhaps inspiration for my next post? 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to leave some feedback; I really appreciate it.

  2. This was awesome Jana! I’m not a diehard fan (sorry!) but I love how you gleaned the lessons from the movie and then applied it to business. That must have taken some time to do!
    Happy 4th of July!

    • Thanks, Lori! I think bloggers find inspiration not only in their industry but in other other passions as well; I’ve tried to bring together both worlds, and I’ve found my blog posts the more enjoyable for it.

      Hope your Independence Day was wonderful and safe, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. McClane is a force to be reckoned with, that’s for sure — and his bout with a military jet in “Die Hard 4.0” proves it. But you’re right when you say he lets his emotions get in the way. Telling Gruber about the detonators (and thereby giving away his upper hand) was entirely unnecessary. The business tip you gleaned from this misstep is 100% true: it’s best to remain objective and to not let emotion take over. It’s crucial to make informed, unbiased decisions whenever possible, especially in a professional environment. Failing to do so can lead to irreversible damage in a worse case scenario.

    Excellent advice, Jana!

    • Thanks, Joe! While I definitely think having passion for your business is essential, most decisions should be made objectively.

      I appreciate you stopping by!

  4. Finally someone who thinks Die Hard is serious business, Jana! Who wouldn’t want McClane as their CEO? Apart from machine-gun wielding Germans, that is 🙂

    Outstanding post, as usual!

    • Thank you, Wim! Die Hard certainly is serious business. 🙂 On a more serious note, action movies would not constantly be compared to Die Hard if there weren’t a likable lead and a sound plot. Both of these factors provide plenty of strategies for problem-solving and decision-making!

  5. Hi Jana,

     Definitely letting competitors know your secret is a no-no. Once ahead in the race, it may be a good idea to share stuff with others.

    Arrogance does not pay in the long run at all. Finally, right emotions can be all the difference between you as a leader and others.

    I agree with your points here and I do like Die Hard series though I have not repeated it from long back 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Ashvini! 

      I think everyone finds it a no-brainer not to give away leads to competitors and other obvious no-nos, but it’s amazing how some can go past the “transparency” they offer to build credibility and instead provide critical resources their competitors can use on them.

      You should definitely give Die Hard another watch, and maybe you can get some more tips! 🙂

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