Any entrepreneur worth his or her salt knows that they can’t afford to rest on their laurels. The world of business is in a constant state of flux, evolving and revolving at an increasingly alarming speed in this fast paced, technologically led and extraordinarily competitive melee we call the 21st century business landscape. Savvy entrepreneurs know that while their skills, work ethic and sheer determination are what forged their business into what it is today, they need an adaptive, agile and flexible mindset to ensure that their businesses are still going strong tomorrow. Thus, entrepreneurs are keen to take inspiration from wherever they can find it. They travel far and wide to listen to the insights and experiences of other entrepreneurs at speaking events. They make sure that their businesses have a culture of open, upward communication from their employees and adopt clearly defined strategies for employee suggestions.
In virtually every facet of their day to day lives they come across things that can make them a better entrepreneur. Every time they receive outstanding customer service from a waiter or a barista, they think about how they can replicate the experience for their own customers. Every time they see evidence of a smooth and streamlined business process at work from a customers’ perspective, they see it as an opportunity to learn, to replicate and to assimilate it into their own practices and processes. They watch TED talks, attend seminars, read book after book on management… But perhaps the world of pop culture can also provide some guiding principles? We’ve already talked about small business lessons we can learn from Yoda, but let’s guide the conversation over to the medium of print. We live in an age in which comic book superheroes are no longer the preserve of a tiny subculture of geeks, they’ve gone mainstream in a big way. Who’d have thought that a film about the Avengers would smash every box office opening weekend record?
There’s no doubt that these larger than life, super powered sorts resonate with the masses in a big way. But while you may never be able to run your business at super speed or use telepathy to ascertain what your customers really want, there are still plenty of lessons that reading comics can teach you about being a better entrepreneur…
Inspire your workforce like Superman
That symbol on his chest may look like an S, but on his world it means hope. Superman is the world’s first superhero and in meta narrative terms he is, either directly or indirectly, an inspiration to every gaudily clad crime fighter who came after him. Within the world of DC comics, however, he’s also a beacon of hope, aspiration and inspiration. There isn’t a tights wearer in the DC universe who doesn’t look to Superman for guidance and inspiration. He doesn’t just save people, he makes them see the best of themselves.
It’s fair to say, without hubris, that every entrepreneur needs to be more like Superman.
Firstly, Superman has a great understanding of branding. That S that means hope crystallizes everything that makes him the character that he is (and it’s also one of the most iconic pieces of graphic art in popular culture). He is the shining example of hope in the universe and he very much wears it on his (metaphorical) sleeve. Likewise, your branding should represent everything that’s in your mission statement and should be reflected everywhere from your logo to each and every interaction your customers have with your employees.
Just as the rest of the Justice League rallies behind Superman, your employees should rally behind you. You should lead by example, and take every opportunity you can to model good practice to your employees. Flowing red cape optional.
Train your team like Splinter trains the Ninja Turtles
Of course, leading by example is far from the only way to maintain the standards upon which your brand is built. You must also invest heavily in training. It’s what enables the humanoid rat Master Splinter (arguably one of the greatest mentors in comics) to transform an emotionally volatile quartet of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into a fighting force that can repel the forces of evil from corrupt ninja clans to alien menaces.
Training is the best vehicle available to you when it comes to driving and maintaining standards. It not only imbues employees with new skills but it helps to keep them motivated and eager to use them. Thus, you should ensure that all employees have access to regular job specific training. But Splinter is more than a demanding task master. He’s also open and nurturing to his students. Thus, you should also maintain a sense of approachability and openness. Operate an open door policy and make ensure that employees have a forum to make suggestions, air grievances and actively contribute to the advancement of your business.
Invest in the best equipment like Batman
When you think about it, there’s no way that Batman should be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with his super powered peers in the Justice League, much less go toe toe with The Man of Steel himself. But despite the physical limitations that come with being a man amongst Gods, he is able to level the playing field by relying on the best tech that he can either buy, appropriate or invent.
While it’s unlikely that your business will need to repel any alien invasions any time soon, it’s important that you lean on the right tech to help you to stand out from your competitors. Unlike Bruce Wayne, however, you likely don’t have a billion dollar bank balance behind you. While entrepreneurs must always maintain a balancing act between investing appropriately in their business while keeping costs manageable. That’s why we need to keep an eye on our live auctions and capitalize on liquidation sales and other such opportunities when they present themselves. For this reason (among many others) it’s vital that you maintain good liquidity so that you can capitalize on opportunities to grow your business and increase productivity without crippling your business’ daily operations.
Prepare for tomorrow’s challenges like Iron Man
Like Batman, Iron Man is an excellent role model for entrepreneurs because he is in fact an entrepreneur himself. While many superheroes are reactive in their approach to crime fighting, Iron Man takes a more proactive approach. He focuses not only on the challenges directly in front of him, but the challenges that will come tomorrow. Granted this doesn’t always go according to plan (see Avengers: Age of Ultron) but there’s a lot to be said for a proactive approach to tomorrow’s problems, today.
The trouble is that the passion that entrepreneurs have for their businesses can often make them into insufferable micro managers. While a can-do mentality and the willingness to roll up your sleeves and join your employees at the proverbial coalface is admirable, it’s rarely the most productive use of your time. Make sure that you devote plenty of your time to the more strategic elements of entrepreneurship. Keep an eye on your analytics and use them to inform your strategy for sustainable growth in the future.
Manage your temper like Bruce Banner
Everyone knows that given the right combination of pressure, stress, anxiety and annoyance Bruce Banner can transform into the giant green wrecking ball known as The Incredible Hulk. While no entrepreneur is likely to transform into a 9 foot tall green rage monster, it’s important to remember the devastating effects that entrepreneur burnout can have on your organization. It’s important that you recognize your limitations and manage your stress effectively. If you fail to do so, it’s all too easy for the combination of fatigue, stress, anxiety and genuine passion for your business to manifest in ugly ways. Many well meaning entrepreneurs have found themselves losing their temper with employees, letting the veneer of professionalism slip in front of customers and melting down in front of an impressionable workforce. Needless to say, outbursts of emotion can undermine you as a leader and undermine your employees’ and your customers’ faith in your brand.
Handle customer complaints like Wonder Woman
Last summer the whole world got to fall in love with Wonder Woman as played by Gal Gadot. Wonder Woman is somewhat unique among her superhero peers. Unlike most superheroes she never punches her way to victory unless she’s lost all hope of diplomacy and never misses an opportunity to turn an enemy into a friend. There’s a terrific quote in Wonder Woman #5 that exemplifies this;
“We have a saying, my people. ‘Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.”
Try to adopt this mentality when handling customer complaints. It’s all too easy to see customer complaints as something adversarial. Something that alienates you from your customers. Your workplace culture should see customer complaints for what they are… An opportunity for you and your employees to better yourself and make your business even more formidable.
Thus, whenever you get some down time and need to relax to avoid entrepreneurial burnout, read some comics… It might just be the best thing you do for your business!