Blog Post

5 Workplace Lessons We Learned from Mike Nichols

Cornerstone Editors

The entertainment industry has recently lost a legend in the form of writer/director/producer Mike Nichols. In honor of his unparalleled contributions to American stage and screen, we present five essential lessons about the workplace we've gleaned over the course Nichols' prolific career.

1. Say "Yes, and..."

Nichols was instrumental in founding Chicago's famed Second City Improv troupe, where Tina Fey and so many other talented comedic performers got their start. Fey has famously said the improv rule of "yes, and" — the one that insists actors must always agree with whatever their fellow performers are saying and add something new - has served her well in work and life. "To me, ’yes, and' means don't be afraid to contribute," she wrote in her 2011 memoir Bossypants. "It's your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you're adding something to the discussion."

2. College doesn't prepare graduates for careers. (Or healthy relationships)

Nichols won a Best Director Oscar for The Graduate in 1967, and gave us Dustin Hoffman's unforgettable Benjamin Braddock. As the blank-faced recent grad floats aimlessly (quite literally) in the pool, his exasperated father asks, "would you mind telling me what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?" Says Braddock, with a shrug: "You got me." Touche.

3. Don't burn bridges

In the Nichols-directed workplace classic Working Girl, Melanie Griffith's inexperienced Tess McGill is shocked when her boss expresses distaste for a colleague she just buttered up. "Never burn bridges," Sigourney Weaver's Katherine Parker explains, sagely: "Today's junior prick, tomorrow's senior partner."

4. Women don’t need power suits. (Or shoulder pads)

When Working Girl was released in 1988, the female power suit was very much en vogue. But when Harrison Ford's Jack Trainer spots Griffith’s Tess in an outfit slightly more feminine, there’s a welcome moment of appreciation. "You're the first woman I've seen at one of these things that dresses like a woman," he says, "not like a woman thinks a man would dress if he was a woman."

5. Never underestimate the power of personal branding

Nichols returned to Broadway in 2012 and produced "Death of a Salesman," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield. In an interview about why the Pulitzer Prize-winning play about blue collar hero Willy Loman still resonates 65 years after it debuted, Nichols said simply: "Everybody wants to be known. Everybody’s a Kardashian. We are a nation of salesmen. And all of us, to keep our jobs, have to sell ourselves."

Photo credits:, Getty Images, Cinemabeats, 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox, Charles Sykes/AP

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

Driving innovation through a data-driven talent strategy

Customer Story

Driving innovation through a data-driven talent strategy

PGS is a global geophysical company with a simple mission; to support the search for affordable and sustainable energy for all. While the company’s primary focus had previously been in oil and gas exploration, this transition to operating in renewables such as offshore wind and carbon storage has been a recent one.

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2024