Although they are all blessed with extraordinary prowess, superheroes possess a power that doesn't get enough attention. In my view, it is their entrepreneurial spark that elevates them from circus-acts to gifted heroes. Amongst their myriad of entrepreneurial powers, they demonstrate a razor sharp skill in PR, branding, and creativity (development of logo, the building of a secret superhero headquarters etc.) all while keeping their identity a secret. The superhero must remain current and topical to keep the spirit of hope alive and to reassure people that evil will not be the victor. Being agile and adapting with the times while holding on to their values is core to the superhero's continued existence. Once the public stop caring, the illusion dies.
In my earlier blogs, I have taken my readers through a journey exploring different "reservoirs" of entrepreneurial wisdom. We have sought inspiration from quotations, Hollywood movies, athletic champions, and failed businesses. Today, on Halloween 2013, we fight the forces of darkness by looking toward our comic book superheroes for inspiration and business wisdom:
Not only does Bruce Wayne defend Gotham from crime, but he also manages to run a multi-billion dollar business in the form of Wayne Enterprises. Although he puts up a guise of the careless millionaire playboy, this is all for the cameras, a mere distraction technique hiding the true purpose of his existence. His public image has Wayne labelled a reckless rogue, too immature to run a multi-billion dollar empire.
Yet Wayne Enterprise is involved in various different industries including shipping, medical equipment, food production, entertainment and electronics. With a fictional turn-over of $98.5 billion, the company’s innovations in technology are far superior then anything Batman’s foes have access to. Wayne is an innovator who doesn’t hold himself to the limitations of the ordinary Gotham citizen.
He also knows how to build a good team around him. Albert offers him the harsh criticism which nobody else will, and Robin works as his apprentice, waiting patiently to be passed the crime fighting torch.
Lesson: Too many entrepreneurs fail due to their own hubris - they start to believe they are invincible, which clouds their judgement, and then it happens, the poorly conceived decision, unchecked by peers, that unravels their success. Like superheroes, entrepreneurs must tread that fine balance between self-belief and humility. Not all of Batman's battles would be won by his technologies alone. It is his team, the human capital he is nurturing, that ultimately makes him dominate the superhero world of Gotham City.
Matt Murdock a/k/a Daredevil’s life changes forever when he is blinded by a radioactive substance in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City. Instead of accepting his blindness, Murdock innovates and uses a new way in which to view the world. Instead of becoming a victim of circumstance, the tragic accident heightens the strength of his other senses leading to the development of extremely acute hearing.
He develops echo-location similar to that used by bats. This is the skill of measuring the rate at which sound waves bounce off objects to envision the world. Taking something perceived as a weakness and turning it into strength is entrepreneurial behaviour. He saw a different way of achieving a task he no longer was able to do.
Lesson: Turning a weakness into a strength is an essential weapon in both the superhero's and entrepreneur's arsenal. It is sheer doggedness and resilience that are the most valuable intangible assets of successful entrepreneurs. A skill not only needed in an entrepreneur's first success, but also essential for his reincarnation, known in the superhero world, as the "come back".
Tony Stark is a billionaire playboy, astute businessman and the most gifted engineer of his generation. His company, Stark Industries specialises in creating advanced weapon and defence technology with a fictional turnover of $20.3 billion.
The greatest piece of weaponry created by Stark’s company comes in a moment of need for Stark. He invents the Iron Man suit when he is kidnapped by terrorists who try to force him to create an atomic bomb. Instead of doing this, he uses the tools provided to engineer the Iron Man suit and escape in a move of inventive genius.
It was innovative and creative thinking like this that made his company a success in the first place. The inbuilt ability to think quickly on one’s feet using a mix of survival thinking and creativity is what entrepreneurship is all about.
Lesson: Some of our greatest inventions are born out of adversity and constraints. When faced with physical, mental, technological, and mechanical barriers, a "survival instinct" is triggered in us, tapping into recesses of our brain not ordinarily used. And great ideas, products, and services come out of it. "Frugal" innovation, innovation that arises from adversity, is what led to Tony Stark's creation of Iron Man, not his lavish, high-tech laboratory in Malibu, California. There is a lesson in here for all entrepreneurs.
To take a quote from Spiderman; “With great power comes great responsibility”. It is no coincidence a lot of these comic-book heroes run successful fictional businesses and are looking to make their society a better place. These fictional heroes are change-makers and have what I call social leanings i.e. an urge to contribute to their community and environment in a heroic way. For example, co-founder of Ebay, Jeff Skoll, runs a successful media company Participant Media but channels millions to social entrepreneurs globally through his philanthropic initiative, the Skoll Foundation. Is he not a superhero of sorts?
It is no surprise that many super heroes also manage successful careers in business as well as being caped crusaders. It is the same attributes - vision, execution, speed, agility, resilience, innovation - that makes them good at both. In both activities you turn a dream into a reality and achieve something that all others thought was impossible. Both capture the public’s attention and involve standing bravely to defend what they believe in.
On the surface, superheroes make for good entertainment. But if we dig deeper, we find that they are also innovators who develop and harness new technology and embrace creative ways to achieve, survive, adapt and prosper. Like so many things in life, we need to peel back the layers to get a 360 degree view. A bit of unpeeling with my favourite comic book heroes has shown me that they are a lot more like entrepreneurs than we think...and there's a lot more that is "super" about them than their super powers alone.