The Lego Batman Movie — 3 Corporate Lessons We Can All Learn

First day, second show. 3-D glasses — check. Popcorn — check. Excitement — check (Umm, not exactly on the same scale as my son, happily perched on a booster seat next to me though). The movie begins to roll, Batman takes center-stage and the next 100 minutes is packed with clever humor, brilliant storytelling and awe-striking Lego sets.

But, somewhere before we hit half time, my mind drifted as I began drawing a parallel between Batman’s “super-me” characterization and real-life corporate culture. And soon, I could see the faint parallel lines getting darker and bolder.

  1. Batman (pointing to Barbara and Robin) says “You’re good, You’re good … But, I’m great” — We all have at some point crossed paths with this personality type at work or elsewhere. The self-elevated, self-obsessed individuals who just can’t think beyond themselves. They believe they are the Alpha. They make their superiority known in bashful ways and humility never ever comes into play. Most often, they do so, to flaunt their power position — which could be a legitimate title “the Supreme Boss”, a master of rocket science degree, by dangling carrots at eye-level sending you off in a hypnotic trance or by flashing a stick sneakily behind your back. Whatever the case, the “super-me”s are detrimental to building a collective, harmonious system in any organization. They break down teams, inflict colleagues with low self-esteem and inhibit free flow of ideas — all of which negatively impact quality of work. So, it’s imperative for companies hiring people/evaluating employee performance to validate how people behave in a team setting, blend with the organizational culture and contribute towards achieving team goals; rather than focusing on individual functional skills/goals achieved. For building a successful brand and sustaining it, organizational culture is a fundamental block — much like the Lego brick. We need cohesiveness, consistency and commitment to create a unique brand experience. Because, after all, it is not about what a customer receives but how they receive it which truly differentiates a brand. And, this is only possible if we have more ‘super-us’ and less ‘super-me’.
  2. Batman’s idea meter — Me: 53,875; Everyone Else: 0 (don’t know if I got the numbers right, but should be close) — This reminded me of the classic top down communication strategy that most organizations seek comfort in. All great ideas (so, they think!) flow from the peak and trickle downwards. Why? Because, the inhabitants at the top believe “they know best”. But, how do they know that? Didn’t I just say “they think they know best”? And, so the vicious cycle continues. Where does it lead? Into the Phantom Zone of Organizational Silence. Imagine a house filled with kids running around, giggling, screaming and then after a while you hear nothing at all. The world suddenly feels like a sanctuary — peace and calm surround you. But, few minutes later, you start to panic. You know something is just not right and trouble is brewing. Its about the same when a climate of silence descends upon an organization. Employees hold back their opinions, feel irrelevant, lack motivation and are uncommitted. Leaders, on the other hand, fear criticism and believe that any form of dissent is unhealthy for an organization. So, they continue imposing their ideas and decisions through an organizational structure that thrives on a leader-follower matrix. In such an environment, decisions made can be skewed and trigger retaliation from employees or worse no action at all; potential risks or better alternatives could be overlooked; disparity can seep in between your brand promise and what is actually delivered; and innovation takes a big hit. So, embrace feedback. Seek it out. Vertically, laterally — from all directions. Get everyone to be part of the change. And, before you know it, your employees will transform into brand ambassadors, most willingly.
  3. Batman to Joker: “You mean nothing to me, there is no us” — How many times have we sidelined a competitor or partner thinking they are not significant? Or, maybe too new in the industry? Acknowledging competition irrespective of their size, current market share and historical background is paramount. That puny-sized competitor who just opened doors might have just the right mix of ingredients to set off on the road to success. Plus, they have the advantage of being nimble, freedom to take bigger risks and don’t shy away from trying the ‘untried’. So, before you know it, you could be spending hours in executive meetings trying to figure out how they did, whatever they did. For established brands to re-create themselves, whether in an incremental or revolutionary way, they need to be aware of what’s going on around them, at all times — good and bad. Pick up the smallest clues. Continually learn from their surroundings. At the same time, also look within — to align their strategy, skills, culture and processes to ‘fit’ their brand vision. Only those organizations that manage to juggle both well enough, ultimately, steal the show.