Um … spoiler alert. Did you read the title of this post? If you still need a spoiler alert, then you’re worse at reading social cues than Ben Affleck’s character in The Accountant. And if you haven’t seen Ben Affleck’s movie The Accountant, then what the hell is wrong with you? Even Jason Blumer’s seen The Accountant. The last movie he saw in the theater was Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.¹
The Accountant is rated R, so I guess if you haven’t seen it and you’re a CPA and under the age of 18, I get it. Otherwise, if you haven’t seen it, I’m pretty sure you’re breaking the Code of Professional Conduct.
And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great movie. Saw it twice. It was tons fun to watch it in a theater full of (presumably) civilians who still got all the accounting jokes.
It’s also cool to think back on the movie and see how many things Ben Affleck’s character, Christian Wolff, was doing right that a lot of accountants and firm owners do wrong.
First off, on a big-picture level, Christian Wolff embodied of the convention of conservatism. By following the convention of conservatism, accountants tend to understate (rather than overstate) net assets and net income. And by following the convention of conservatism, accountants tend to lethally shoot bad guys and then shoot them again in the brainpan at close range — just to make sure. Like the double tap in Zombieland (Rule #2).²
Another interesting observation happens fairly early in the movie when Anna Kendrick’s character and Ben Affleck’s character have an awesomely awkward accountants-getting-to-know-each-other conversation. During the interchange, Anna Kendrick says her dad’s taste in art is super-lame because he likes Dogs Playing Poker, to which Ben Affleck replies, “I like Dogs Playing Poker. It’s incongruous. I like incongruity.”
Turns out everyone digs incongruity. That’s the allure of this entire film: nerdy accountant by day, lethal killing machine by night. Your clients dig incongruity, too. That’s why they need to know about whatever it is you do that’s not stereotypical accountant behavior. Honestly, it’s pretty stupid how much mileage I get out of being both a CPA and a comedian. John Garrett, another accountant-comedian, has a podcast devoted to the idea of developing an interesting life outside of work, and the benefits that follow. Finding and following your incongruity is also a great way to find the niche that you should be serving.
But back to the movie. The plot revolves around Christian Wolff’s forensic engagement for a company called Living Robotics, a company that makes life-changing, cutting-edge medical prosthetics. During their initial meeting, the CFO said he was worried that they were wasting Christian’s time. Christian’s response was, “You’re not wasting my time. I’m on the clock.” Boom. At this year’s Deeper Weekend, Blair Enns drove home the idea that our discovery work is valuable, and that clients can (and should) pay for it. Christian Wolff was well-positioned as an expert forensic accountant, “nothing less than a miracle worker.” If you do the work to position yourself as an expert, then arguably the most valuable thing you do for your client is define their problem, and when you create value, you should get paid.
As the movie progresses, it turns out Lamar Black, the founder of Living Robotics, was behind the accounting irregularities. Once he figured out that Christian Wolff was on his scent, he let him go. When he did so, he handed Christian a check for “the balance of his contract.” Boom. Again. Fixed pricing, bitches. It’s unclear if Christian value priced his customers, but he was definitely using fixed pricing because if he billed his time, there would be no balance on the contract. Fixed pricing isn’t value pricing, but it’s a start.
Probably my favorite part of the move, and one of the funniest moments, came near the end. Christian Wolff had figured out that Lamar Black was not just behind the accounting irregularities, he was also systematically killing off people in the company to keep them quiet. When Christian and Lamar came face to face, Lamar defended his actions by making a utilitarian appeal. He screamed, “I make people whole, I give them hope. Do you even know what that’s like?!” Dispassionately and without hesitation, Christian Wolff replied, “Yes, I do.” And shot him in the forehead. Hilarious! Right?
But the point is, we do make people’s lives better. We change their lives and give them hope. Keep that in the front of your brainpan as you go throughout your day. It needs to be the main motivation for everything we do.
According to Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage, there are three ways to look at work: as a job, as a career, or as a calling. He says, “People with a calling view work as an end in itself; their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose.” Are you good at what you do? Does it draw on your innate strengths? Do you recognize that you help people change and give them hope? Then you’ve got a calling, you mofo.
Now go take a karate class.
¹Watching it was his main motivation to change his major from theoretical physics to accounting; however, it’s weird he’s never seen the sequel, seeing how much he likes to blow crap up.