Business Wisdom from “The Big Lebowski” (The Dude Abides!)

Instead of "The Tao of Pooh," treat yourself to "The Zen of Dude" (and "The Big Lebowski").
Instead of “The Tao of Pooh,” treat yourself to “The Zen of Dude” (and “The Big Lebowski”).

Continuing in the fine tradition of this blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t add The Big Lebowski to my existing collection of film-inspired business wisdom. Previous entries include Working Girl, The Princess Bride, and Ghostbusters (an ode to Harold Ramis).

We all know Jeff Bridges finally earned himself a shiny little gold man named Oscar back in 2010 for Crazy Heart. But personally, I think The Big Lebowski is Bridges’s magnum opus regarding memorable one-liners that also function as business-world advice.

Seriously, this movie has it all: the delirious genius of the Coen brothers, White Russians (the alcoholic drink, which The Dude also refers to as a “Caucasian”), nihilists, and bowling as a lifestyle. Additionally, a splendid gaggle of actors (including Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, and John Turturro) provides slacker Jeff Lebowski (The Dude himself) with ample opportunity to achieve maximum underachievement.

The film’s storyline is a profane romp of mistaken identity and modern Chandleresque potboiler. (There is another Jeffrey Lebowski, a crusty, old millionaire with a porn-star trophy wife–he’s the BIG Lebowski.)

Are you ready to be “bowled over” by the hidden wisdom of The Dude and his bowling buddies, Walter and Donny? Additional trivia related to this unforgettable film follows way below the fold:

Above All, The Dude Abides (And So Should You): It’s quite possible that Jeff Lebowski is the ultimate human resources manager. This famous phrase is his alone, the ultimate in zen philosophy. And what does it mean to abide?

My trusty Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers multiple definitions, but the one that seems most appropriate is this: “to endure without yielding: withstand.”

Rather than taking sides or favoring one employee or peer over another, the best way to remain as neutral as Switzerland is to work this “Dudeism” into your professional vocabulary.

Here’s a profoundly righteous interpretation of The Dude’s words via the IMBd website:

“‘The Dude abides’ is a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:4, ‘One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever.’ It is a reference to how The Dude, much like the Earth, can weather change and chaos around him, but still remain the same.”

Because after all,

“The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that…” (The Stranger)

But Sometimes You Have to Mind, Rather Than Abide: There will be times in your work life when you need to circumvent a potential altercation or collective dissent among the troops. Rather than clamping down on people in an angry way, follow the Dude’s more laid-back lead and let them know that you mind.

For my political-junkie readers, you’ll be pleased to know The Dude (and the Coen brothers) borrowed from remarks President George H.W. Bush made back in 1990 (“This aggression will not stand…”) in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Here’s how you talk the talk with your disgruntled employees, Lebowski style:

“I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.” (The Dude)

Allow Jackie Treehorn to Be Your Visionary Role Model (And Pimp): If The Dude is the mindful and zen-like HR manager, then Jackie Treehorn (the superb Ben Gazzara) is the brash and hungry marketing executive. He’s your basic ruthless pornographer and loan shark posing as a more genteel businessman.

But Mr. Treehorn (hmm, how many ways could we interpret that surname?) is a man who foresees his industry’s progression. He welcomes the opportunity to tap into the future without any hesitation or regrets.

Here is Jackie Treehorn in action (circa 1991 Los Angeles), dragging The Dude into the modern world of advancing technology:

“Interactive erotic software. The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic!”

(Of course, The Dude gently reminds this sleazy prophet that some processes are best handled [my very bad!] in a traditional way: “Yeah well, I still jerk off manually.” If I’ve offended you, so be it.)

In Business, As in Life, You Must Be Prepared to Be Eaten by Bears (And Bars): This is not the actual quote–I’m saving it for the end of this section.  It’s said by the movie’s narrator, known as The Stranger. But trust me, you’ll recognize his voice immediately. (By film’s end you see that it’s gravelly-voiced actor Sam Elliott.)

The most amusing thing about this bit of advice is that since The Stranger is a Texas cowboy, it’s hard to tell whether he’s saying “bar” or “bear.” Here’s the video clip–you decide!

Regardless, being aware that karma can be a “bear” and that sometimes you will not always be the winner (of a new project, account, client, or customer) is a pragmatic philosophy:

“Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you.”

(Honestly, does business advice come gift-wrapped any better than this carnivorous line?)

Other Outstanding Quotes from The Big Lebowski:

“…I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT… Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.” (Walter)

“This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, a lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head.” (The Dude)

“Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski. Condolences. The bums lost. My advice is to do what your parents did; get a job, sir. The bums will always lose. Do you hear me, Lebowski?” (Said by the Big Lebowski to The Dude)

“By the way, do you think that you could give me that $20,000 in cash? My concern is, and I have to, uh, check with my accountant, that this might bump me into a higher, uh, tax…” (The Dude)

Finally, here is Walter’s eulogy for the dearly departed Donny (before scattering his ashes into the Pacific Ocean):

“Donny was a good bowler, and a good man. He was one of us. He was a man who loved the outdoors… and bowling, and as a surfer he explored the beaches of Southern California, from La Jolla to Leo Carrillo and… up to… Pismo. He died, like so many young men of his generation, he died before his time. In your wisdom, Lord, you took him, as you took so many bright flowering young men at Khe Sanh, at Langdok, at Hill 364. These young men gave their lives. And so would Donny. Donny, who loved bowling. And so, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince.”


By now you’ve probably figured out that The Big Lebowski is a genuine cult film. If you’ve never seen the movie, give it a whirl the next time it shows up on a premium (without commercials) or regular (with plenty of commercials) cable channel. Better yet, stream it for free online!

Other indicators The Big Lebowski is firmly entrenched under the circus’s big top include (The Church of the Latter-Day Dude) and the annual multi-city Lebowski Fest, which originated in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2002. There’s also a British version of this festival, Lebowski Fest UK.

Are you a fan of the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski? If so, what favorite “Dudeism” of yours did I neglect to include in this post? If The Dude were to become the CEO of a corporation, what type of business do you think he would run? Newbies, please be advised: There is a ton of profanity in The Big Lebowski. It’s quite possible that Ethan and Joel Coen are huge David Mamet fans…

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing or educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at  for a no-obligation project quote today!

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