Fitzcarraldo was the Werner Herzog film about the entrepreneur Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald who decided to build an opera house in the Amazon jungle by pulling a small boat over a mountain enlisting the help of several thousand Amazonian Indians many of whom died in this doomed venture.
Herzog’s film itself was hardly a smooth business proposition what with lead actor Klaus Kinski threatening to walk out and Herzog himself retaliating by offering to kill Kinski if he as much took a foot outside the troubled film camp.
But Fitzcarraldo – the entrepreneur of entrepreneurs – had, for all his cussid waywardness, an awesome business vision for his opera house: ‘build it and they will come’.
However no one ever seems to have caught sight of our hero’s business plan – he certainly doesn’t refer to it any dialogue that Kinski utters – and the question of who ‘they’ are is never quite clear. Western European opera buffs? Brazilians in search of rarified European culture? Crocodiles in search of food supplied by the tourists who have fallen foul of the myriad of bugs viruses and small goat size anemones which cover the Amazonian forest floor? We are not sure and neither was Fitzcarraldo – and more likely than not, he didn’t really care who they were, as long as they came.
Unhappily for many of us lesser entrepreneurs, ‘build it and they will come’ is as tantalising a proposition for us as it was for Fitz. It has generated its own trails of failed business plans, mad cap ventures, impossible business scenarios and hair brained schemes which look great on paper, even better in film but utterly doomed in the nasty jungle floor of business reality.
‘Build it and they will come‘ is a great motivational force – but it needs to be coupled with an equal and opposite force which says ‘and what do they get out of coming along to your magnificent edifice? And how are you going to get them to come along, especially if your proposal is set in the urban equivalent of the Amazon? And who is they in the first place? Your mum and dad? Nearest and dearest? Complete strangers who don’t know – yet – that their life’s mission will not be completed until they have visited your own personal opera house?’
Build it and they will come has provided some great business stories in recent times – but if you want to avoid the substantial collateral damage of dead bodies on and off set and the spectre of white elephants littering your neighbourhood, then be clear on the who, the what, the where, the how, the when and the why of the ‘they’.