John McClane, CEO: What ‘Die Hard’ Taught Me About Taking Action

Yippie ki yay, Bubba-ites! It appears that the last Die Hard post was such a hit that the villagers are clamoring for more. You must’ve been surprised that I only listed three marketing and business tips from what is clearly a wellspring of inspiration.

The solution? Three more tips! Inspired by an additional viewing of the movie and enthusiastic commenter, Juliette, I’m serving up three more pearls of business wisdom fresh from 1988. These focus specifically on making choices in the workplace.

Pink Tie Man is researching as hard as he can.

1) Gather as much information as you can before taking action.

Just as McClane analyzes the fake drivers’ licenses and keeps a record of how many terrorists there are on his arm with a Sharpie, it’s important to gather as much information as possible before taking action on a problem.

If you’re relying on what others say, how do you know it’s true? Can you trace information back to a source? How reliable are your sources? Bad information is worse than no information. If the problem is interpersonal, you’re going to struggle to support your position if you enter the discussion unprepared. Getting your information together – as much and as specific as possible – is critical in making choices and asserting yourself in the workplace. When you appear unprepared, the opposition looks like a better choice not because of the inherent strength of the argument but because you’re a mess. Get it together.

Walkin' on broken glass

2) Be prepared to walk over broken glass.

It would be awesome if every choice was between two excellent things: a corner office or a hefty raise, a company car or a company credit account. However, the more likely scenario is that you’re going to have to make a choice between two crappy circumstances: laying off an employee or going over budget, losing three small accounts or one large account. For John McClane, it was risking the lives of the hostages by allowing the terrorists to execute their plan or walk over a field of broken glass.

If you see tough times ahead and can change paths before disaster, you’d do it, right? The decision becomes more difficult if it means you have to do something painful immediately – letting an employee go, switching from a loyal vendor to someone more affordable, working extra hours without pay – to prevent a small problem from escalating into disaster. Bite the bullet, rip off the band-aid, and be willing to step onto broken glass.





Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

3) Sometimes, the best course of action is no action.

Okay, what the hell? I just told you that I learned from Die Hard that you need to cowboy up and get things done. Now I’m pushing this passive crap on you? I know. Hang in there.

When Harry D.* Ellis is trying to convince McClane to give up, McClane desperately pleads with him not to pretend they’re old friends and make Professor Snape think he’s got the upper hand. McClane still refuses to give in, and Gruber turns Harry D. Ellis into the late Harry D. Ellis. McClane launches into his signature self-talk: “Why the f— didn’t you stop ’em, John? ‘Cause then you’d be dead, too, asshole.”

Why didn’t he act? He answers his own question. There’s no reason to go down with a sinking ship, because you have survivor’s guilt. McClane was only able to work with the small advantages he had to survive, and Harry D. Ellis put himself at risk by getting involved. If a coworker wants to go poke at the sleeping dragon that is your boss – even if you’re BFFs with your coworker – there’s no reason to get yourself fried in the process.

What have you learned about taking action from the best action movie of all time? How do you make business decisions when both seem to be pretty awful? When do you know it’s time to act and when do you let things play out? Is every situation different, or do you have clear cut boundaries? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!


*D is for “douchebag”

Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.


  1. JPorretto

    “Bad information is worse than no information.” (Clap clap clap!)

    I wish more people understood this. Its along the same lines as “Correlation does not imply Causation” (Thank you Psych Degree). Just because you THINK you know something, doesn’t mean you DO. So always base your actions on the very real possibility that you could be completely wrong and make a total fool out of yourself…

    • Jana Quinn

      Since you’re a psych major, you’ll get a kick out of this:

      I gave it to my students when I TA-ed a research methods class in grad school.

  2. Scooby DOO!

    How do you make business decisions when both seem to be pretty awful?
    > If you look at a body of decisions you have made over the long-term, the awful ones that you had to make once-in-awhile, don’t seem all that bad. More to the point, when those “tough” situations present themselves, look long term and select the best of the two evils that will serve to increase a positive outcome in the long run. That’s how I see it.

    • Amanda Sneed

      Agreed! Great point! 😉

  3. Jill Tooley

    Another masterpiece! 🙂

    Thanks for the infinite wisdom from John McClane. You’re right, it’s sometimes a death sentence to take action before gathering the appropriate information. We have to be prepared for situations before blindly jumping in! And I love the Annie Lennox reference in your second point…we all have to do things we’d rather not, but we won’t get anywhere if we stand there twiddling our thumbs forever. We have to take the reins and push forward, no matter how bloody the outcome.

    One of my favorite lines from this post is “Bite the bullet, rip off the band-aid, and be willing to step onto broken glass.”

    Everyone could take away some wisdom from those words, myself included. Bravo! Once again, you’ve sent me away from your post with a million things to think about.

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks! I just feel so inspired by Detective McClane that I couldn’t help but share his tips with everyone else. 🙂

  4. Joseph Giorgi

    Once again, excellent advice!

    We’ve all been in situations that have forced us to “walk on broken glass.” Making a tough call is never a pleasant experience, and the only way to go about it is to stay collected and make the most informed and objective decision possible.

  5. Juliette

    If only a webcam could have caught my reaction to this post. (Double Fist Pump and silent cheering from my desk chair)

    I’m of the opinion that every situation is different and calls for a different approach (be it waiting or running across broken glass). Experience is probably the best teacher to have when trying to determine the best course of action in a split second. And inevitably you’ll make the wrong choice every now and then. But that’s what helps us to learn, right?

    I’d also suggest that improvisation is one thing that McClane was great at. From pulling the fire alarm to throwing a terrorist out the window onto Powell’s squad car, he was able to improvise just from what he had at hand.

    (and for the record, I totally watched Die Hard last weekend thanks to your first John McClane post)

    • Juliette

      Of course, it would have made sense for me to mention that with the improvisation thing, sometimes that’s what you find yourself doing when you end up in a situation (or made that wrong choice). It’s always good to know your skills and what you have at hand to use to get things back on track.

      • Jana Quinn

        Oh, no… I don’t know if I can get away with a third Die Hard post, but your suggestions may be making it inevitable… 🙂 I like your point about experience; it’s one of those valuable things that we can only get through time.

  6. Amanda Sneed

    Point #3 is a great reminder! Sometimes it’s best to not do anything if a good decision can’t be made at the time. A late, good decision is much better than an on time bad decision in my opinion.

  7. Bret Bonnet

    Die Hard/John McClane for president!

    Seriously, had George W. Bush heeded this timeless piece of advice:

    “Gather as much information as you can before taking action.”

    we wouldn’t be meddling around in Iraq searching for WMD that don’t exist right now. If you’ve every seen the movie “Green Zone”; you’re probably like me, and that is, I’ve lost ALL faith in government “intelligence”.


    Hollywood got it right… AGAIN!

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