7 Super Entrepreneurship Lessons from "Man of Steel"
Over the weekend my wife and I and a friend saw Man of Steel--the latest reboot of the Superman franchise. Note: Spoilers below! If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to stop reading. But then again, it's Superman. You probably know the story already.
Afterward, as we left the theater, my mind wandered to what the movie had to say about entrepreneurship. (It's a sickness. I can't stop thinking like this. Maybe you can relate.) Nobody actually starts a business in Man of Steel, but the movie is as much about leadership, integrity, and gathering teams to achieve a worthy goal as it is about action and explosions. In other words, it has a lot to do with the best principles of entrepreneurship. Here are my top takeaways:
1. Familiarity (Sometimes) Rules
Almost everyone who goes to see Man of Steel knows pretty much what's going to happen. No joke, my three-year-old nephew told me the entire Superman origin story a few weeks ago, complete with references to "Kwypton" and "Superman's daddy, Kal-El." (I think he's a bit confused. Jor-El is Kal-El's father, and it's Kal-El who later becomes Superman. But still, not bad for a three-year-old.)
Despite that familiarity, Man of Steel pulled in $128 million in the U.S. last weekend. Not bad for a cartoon character who made his debut in 1938. Lesson: It can sometimes be better to put a new twist on an old idea, rather than make up something new out of whole cloth.
2. If Trust Doesn't Quite Trump Everything, It Comes Close
Kal-El (aka Clark Kent--interestingly the film manages never to refer to him as "Superman") starts out angst-ridden, unsure of where he's from. Just as he figures it out, his Kryptonian father's nemesis, General Zod, shows up. Zod demands that Kal-El surrender in exchange for Zod sparing the Earth--and Kal-El almost gives in.
What stops him? It's all about trust. First, he realizes that Zod isn't trustworthy. Then, the fact that Kal-El was willing to sacrifice himself for Earth helps the humans learn to trust him. (As Kal-El reminds a still-skeptical general at the end of the film, he grew up in Kansas!) The more loyalty he shows to humans, the more they slowly develop trust in him, in return.
3. It's Not What You Say; It's What People Hear
You know the giant "S" on Superman's chest? It's not really an "S." Instead, as explained at least twice in Man of Steel, it's a Kryptonian symbol meaning, "hope." That's nice. But on Earth, as Lois Lane reminds Kal-El, an "S" is an "S" is an "S." 'Nuff said.
4. Focus, Focus, Focus
Kal-El has super-hearing and super-vision--and man-oh-man, is he ever distracted as a result. As a kid, this nearly pushes him near the edge. It's only after his mother teaches him to focus on one sound or sight at a time that he can retain sanity and function. When Zod and the other criminal-refugees from Krypton reach Earth, they have the same problem, except that nobody has ever taught them to focus their senses. Result? They're overwhelmed with sights and sounds, and unable (temporarily) to function.
Sound familiar? Distraction is driving us all crazy and it can be killer in business. Learning to focus is key. (As I wrote this column, this realization almost made me close a few of the dozen tabs I had open on my browser, shut off my phone, and maybe even turn down the sound on the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Finals game I was watching. Almost.)
5. Make the Customer Comfortable
At one point, Kal-El surrenders to a group of humans despite knowing that they plan to turn him over to Zod. When Lois Lane subsequently expresses surprise that he allowed the humans to handcuff him, Kal-El tells her it's because it was important that they feel safe around him. (Even though Superman needs handcuffs like a fish needs a bicycle.)
Sometimes people (read: customers) insist on things that don't cost you much, but make them feel more comfortable. If you want them to deal with you (or try your product), go along with the gag.
6. Negotiating is a Super Skill
There's a lot of action in Man of Steel, but at the same time there's a heck of a lot of negotiating. Jor-El tries to negotiate with the leaders of Krypton before their planet explodes. General Zod tries to negotiate with Jor-El, and then eons later, he tries to negotiate with Kal-El. Kal-El tries to negotiate with Zod, and then the U.S.-led military. Eventually, he and Lois Lane negotiate an interstellar love connection.
What does it all reinforce? Well, without getting too deep, each time negotiations fail and the scene turns to action, it follows a character who has been pushed all the way to the brink. Nobody ever mentions the phrase, but Man of Steel is filled with some tough negotiators who have clearly identified their best alternatives to a negotiated agreement.
7. You Can Easily Hide Forever, Just By Wearing Glasses
This one's tongue-in-cheek of course. Most renditions of the Superman story suggest that Kal-El can blend in with humans simply by donning Elvis Costello specs--and maybe stammering a bit around Lois Lane. Man of Steel takes this idea to extremes. It's kind of cute to see a Superman movie subscribe so blatantly to the "ugly-pretty-girl theory" of Hollywood flicks.
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BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist
Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.