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Willy Wonka

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Fifty years ago today the world received a perfect little gift. On June 30, 1971, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory debuted at movie theaters. An adaptation of the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, the movie grew into a cult classic in the decades that followed.

The movie has shaped how I see the world.

When it was broadcast on TV in the mid-1970s (I was too young to watch the theatre release), I was entranced. My earliest memory of the movie was a feeling, one of adventure in endless technicolor (the red brick roofs of Bavaria, the shiny golden ticket, Willy’s purple suit, Veruca Salt's bright red dress); my mind’s eye still sees the movie vividly.

For me, it was the perfect fairytale. The lovable hero, Charlie, not only found his golden ticket, he ended up with the whole chocolate factory. His quartet of antagonists--Veruca (“I want it now!”), Augustus Gloop (the chocolate river), Violet Beauregard (the gum), and Mike Teevee (the cowboy hat and fake six-shooter)--are burned into our cultural history. So are other elements of the movie, like the Everlasting Gobstopper, Oompa-Loompas, the glass elevator, and Willy Wonka himself.


Oddly, though perhaps appropriately, I’ve folded Willy Wonka references into my speeches on human behavior and decision-making many times over the years. They always land well because the audience immediately gets it. Charlie’s goodness is charming, but it is the deplorable nature of his fellow travelers that sets our memories and emotions afire.

Precisely because these four kids are awful (as are their parents), we can see some of our own worst instincts and behaviors on the big screen: impetuousness, greed, envy, malice, indulgence, overconfidence, ignorance, and so on. Decent chance that on the next remake, Veruca is reimagined as a Crypto Bro.

In short, Willy Wonka is the best behavioral finance movie of all time. And not just because of the endless foibles and biases on display. It achieves that rank because it also speaks to the other and more important side of the coin: Our humanity.

At the very end, when Charlie placed the Everlasting Gobstopper on Willy’s desk, it was a moment of grace and of humility. That nearly perfect scene portrayed a poor, young boy forgo riches because it was the right thing to do. And Willy (who was initially too harsh to Charlie and Grandpa Joe imho) reciprocated by doing the right thing as well. Throughout the film there are moments of hope and resilience that more than counterbalance our innate shortcomings.


I think all of us have different versions of the chocolate factories that we want to build, tour, or gift in our lives. As I’ve begun to suggest in recent writings and podcast interviews, Shaping Wealth is a sort of chocolate factory for my partners and me. We want to build something meaningful, to create an experience that elevates and inspires.

In that spirit, we’ve begun to work with a handful of partners in both the US and abroad who we call our “Golden Ticket” winners. Much unlike the movie, our factory is being built at the same time we’re giving tours. We’ve asked these friends of Shaping Wealth to test our ideas and products, to give real-time feedback, to be harsh but constructive. In return, we have promised that no one will be transformed into a blueberry.

I know of no startup that knew exactly what it wanted to be years down the road, let alone know the execution plan to get there. Same with us. We are building in private with friends who are the exact opposite of the Wonka quartet and, I strongly suspect, we will be much better as a result.

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