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Business Lessons from The Avengers

Few companies would classify the blockbuster ‘The Avengers” as a business movie but as I sat in the cinema watching the Avengers I couldn’t help but smile as it brought to life a fundamental message that only a few maverick organisations have genuinely embraced and used to their advantage, and that is “the misfits together rule the world.”

Of course, Google knew it and became the epitome of the non-traditional workplace; the company everyone wanted to work for. Steve Jobs lived and breathed it and was famously quoted as having said “here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes.  His career resonated with the belief that uniformity was the enemy of innovation. As Jim Collins commented “good is the enemy of great”.

How cool is that! A movie that not only breaks box office records but embeds an intrinsically powerful organisational concept – how the strongest of organisations are not built on soldier armies trained to follow procedure at all costs, but instead on groups of passionate individuals each unique with their own strengths and flaws all working toward a common goal but with the freedom to contribute in their own way.  As I like to put it – a culture of superstars instead of a workplace of vanilla.

Every day I see smart companies committed to finding superstar employees able to deliver results that will enable them to out-perform their competitors.  They invest in employer branding campaigns and pay headhunters to trawl the market for talent.  They engage in bidding wars and poach competitor workforces in their search for the elusive advantage. The rationale is solid but the investment unfortunately often wasted. Why? Because so many workplaces are built around the tired doctrines of traditional performance management and organisational development – the graveyard for innovation.

Workplaces where individuals are encouraged each year to pinpoint their development needs and work on their weaknesses. Management structures where leadership are encouraged to manage succession planning through promoting up. Organisational development arenas where coaches are employed to assess against defined KPI’s.  The result – the culture of vanilla.  A workplace where everyone is geared to be perfectly competent.  Where superstars with hidden talents lay dormant and undeveloped. Where creativity and innovation is quashed as people work within the boundaries they have been given. Where companies miss incredible talent right under their own noses as people sit stagnantly wasting away in roles not aligned with their strengths

But what if instead of a culture of vanilla more businesses decided to follow the road less travelled and build a culture of superstars. Their own unique superhero alliance.  Imagine the possibility of performance acceleration if individuals were focused on honing their talents and strengths rather than countering their weaknesses.  Think of the change in workplace satisfaction that would be possible if employers and employees looked across all areas of the business to better match individual capability with business and market opportunity. What could happen if promotion was defined not as moving up but instead moving across to new areas of opportunity? What could be achieved if people were encouraged to take a risk and shoot for the stars?  To strive in an environment where failure was acceptable and ‘not trying’ was inconceivable.

Would the Avenger’s team have been as good if The Hulk hadn’t been able to use his strength? Who didn’t enjoy seeing The Hulk finally given the freedom to smash? Would the team have made it if the world had succeeded in taming Ironman Tony Stark from his maverick ways?   Of course not.  Greatness comes when unique strengths are unified with shared goals.

The challenge is not eliminating our differences but harnessing them appropriately. How many companies have a superhero workforce already right under their noses just waiting to be unleashed.  In the words of The Avengers movie

“ You put those people together, you can’t expect what’s going to happen…”

Viva la difference.

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