7 Actually Helpful Business Lessons From the TV Show ‘Suits’

Is the TV show Suits realistic? The answer is a loud no. Yet, here we’ll extract a few important lessons from the show about life and business that are actually grounded in reality and somewhat useful in everyday life

While I enjoy poking fun at Suits for its over-the-top drama, I’ve started to consider what the show actually gets right about the business world.

While all television is dramatized, certain shows like Industry, which is currently streaming on Max and revolves around an investment bank in London, feel more grounded in reality. The challenges presented in Industry seem plausible, and the dialogue, along with the social dynamics, appear to reflect a real reality bankers confront, albeit dramatized.

But the issues portrayed in Suits are as far-fetched as the plotlines in a Pokémon cartoon. And as I said in my last article on the topic, I think Game of Thrones has more insights on life and business than Suits does.

Still, let’s try to extract some actual lessons about business from Suits.

1. Good companies depend on skilled entry-level employees and long-term staff who aren’t in upper management.

You know how people always say that nurses do more work and know more than the doctors? That’s even truer in business, just like we see in Suits. Harvey and the rest of the higher-ups are always pushing off work onto Meghan Markle’s character, a paralegal, and Mike Ross. Harvey might be the guy who closes you as a client, but he sure as heck isn’t doing the actual day-to-day work — and that is true across a lot of professions.

Donna Paulsen is another good example of this. Secretaries are often much more than secretaries. They are the critical engine that allows work to be done. The question who is really in charge — Donna or Harvey? — reflects a real archetype in office dynamics; is the support staff more important than upper management?

2. Office politics and bureaucracy slow down companies in extremely unflattering ways.

Think about how much time is wasted on Suits due to internal office drama. The rivalry between Louis and Harvey consumes so much time. The same goes for the power struggles over the managing partner position, or all the personal drama that infuses the daily workplace. This blatant waste of resources that plagues the firm on Suits is also prevalent in major corporations and governments.

Louis Litt’s emotional journey rings true to corporate life. The lack of focus he experiences from mishearing something, or the jealousy that blinds him, seems quite common in large companies. We get lost in this stupid system and lose focus on what we’re actually there to do. Or we end up playing all of these games to appease the bureaucracy that our actual work falls by the wayside.

3. Mergers fail.

Mergers almost always fail, and Suits captures this reality with the doomed merger of Pearson Hardman and Darby International. The show repeatedly drives home the point that introducing a new, significant variable—such as merging two companies—puts you on shaky ground.

4. Romance in the office is super dangerous.

Mike Ross and Rachel Zane seem to have a cute relationship on Suits, but the show offers plenty of examples where office romances lead to disaster. The Scottie and Harvey storyline feels particularly real. You think you can incorporate love and romance! But yeah… You can’t. The tensions that arise between Jessica Pearson and Jeff Malone also seem realistic. And while Mike and Rachel work, their collaboration, especially in Season 4, causes a significant amount of tension.

5. Workers travel in tribes.

It annoys me when Jessica Pearson and Harvey elevate loyalty as the ultimate business virtue. That’s a sentiment warlords and mobsters demand — and I guess bad corporate bosses.

In the day-to-day business world, competence and a well-aligned incentive structure take precedence over loyalty. Good bosses don’t demand loyalty; they craft an environment that logically rewards skill and dedication. It’s a type of loyalty, but it’s based on output, not allegiance and social pressure.

That said, the show does capture the real dynamic of sticking with a core work group throughout your career. Take, for example, when Mike transitions to investment banking but continues to collaborate with Harvey and his former firm. That rings true: as you navigate different jobs, your original crew often stays intertwined in your professional life.

6. Credentials are overrated.

Another irritating aspect of Suits is the unrealistic rule the firm has, which is to hire lawyers only from Harvard. While it’s true that law firms may favor candidates from specific schools or the Ivy League, restricting hires solely to Harvard Law graduates is not reflective of how actual law firms operate. It’s merely a narrative device to emphasize the elitism and credentialism common in high-powered law firms.

Yet a key message of Suits contradicts this by highlighting the absurdity of credentialism. Mike Ross, who never attended law school, turns out to be the best lawyer at the firm. While such a scenario is unlikely in reality, the underlying message—that individuals without credentials can be just as capable, if not more so, than those with prestigious degrees—is a valuable takeaway to the real world of business.

7. The student must always challenge the teacher.

In the beginning, Mike is captivated by Harvey’s expertise and confidence, usually deferring to his judgment without question. As the series progresses, Mike gains a more nuanced understanding of Harvey and starts to develop his own approaches and philosophies. The resulting tension between them fosters mutual growth. This dynamic accurately reflects the process of learning and development, not just in the corporate world but also in all master/apprentice relationships.

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