Boardwalk Empire: five lessons to learn from season one of the hit HBO drama

The celebrated HBO historical drama Boardwalk Empire, set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, is making its way through its second season, and I’m catching up, having recently finished watching the first season.

The well-funded period piece, with backing from Scorsese, Wahlberg and others, tracks the life and times of a character based on a real political boss of the time. It’s a compelling story, tinged with real happenings, heavily researched authenticity and complex characters. In short, it’s a great watch.

Having finished the first season, there are a few takeaways I found myself internalizing:

  1. ‘You have to learn how much sin you can live with,’ said the lead character ‘Nucky,’ played masterfully by Steve Buschemi, in one episode. How much of it and what kind are life decisions worth making early and sticking to through your efforts to live a life you cherish.
  2. Know what your asking price is — Whether it comes out or not, the most artful dealings are made by men in this series who know specifically what they want, what they’ll be willing to give up and what could be defined as success and failure. We could all do a better job of having clearer objectives and asks before walking into a meeting.
  3. Have an inside man and treat him well — You won’t please most of the people, so it makes sensible strategy to keep close associates who are leaders of their respective communities. It can be a source for information, effective lobbying and essential insight.
  4. You’re either moving up or coming down — If you’re in a competitive market, business, industry or organization, your political power, talent, awareness, impact or clout is either improving or falling. Those directions can change winds, but mostly, they’re trending in one direction. Know which one and act accordingly.
  5. Freedom of expression gains never cease to amaze me — Any remotely accurate historical drama always leaves me thinking that everyone in the past was stupendously suppressed, in emotions, sexuality, gender, race, hopes, dreams, attitudes and anything else possible. The obsession with normalcy that came out of our country’s massive influx of immigration was frightening.

For the few of you who haven’t seen the show, check out the first season trailer below.

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