How reading comic books can superpower your startup

Since I was a kid I loved to read. I would read anything and everything I could get my tiny hands on. At a young age I was given my first comic book The Death of Superman, and my little universe changed forever.

Some people — likely, most people — would say that there is no place for fiction, fantasy, or fairy tales in the tech world.

They are wrong.

In one of his speeches, Neil Gaiman (author of the award-winning comic book series Sandman) talks about his trip to China for the first-ever state sponsored sci-fi convention. He remarks to an official that in the past, science fiction conventions had been highly discouraged throughout China. He asked him what had changed, and this was the official’s response:

“You know for years we’ve been making wonderful things. We make your iPods. We make phones. We make them better than anyone else, but we don’t come up with any of those ideas. You bring us things and then we make them. So we went on a tour of America talking to people at Microsoft, at Google, at Apple, and we asked them a lot of questions about themselves, just the people working there. And we discovered that they all read science fiction when they were teenagers. So we think maybe it’s a good thing.”

He is right.

Reading fairy tales, science fiction, and comic books at whatever age gives you superpowers. They take you into another world: where men and women can fly, or teleport, or run faster than the speed of light. They open your mind to things that other people can’t see or imagine, and push the limits of what is possible. And that’s exactly what we in the startup world are working toward every day.

So here are a few things we can all learn from comic books:

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” In the startup world, there are some big fucking dragons. Whether they’re disguised as funding, hiring, marketing, building, or just plain ideas, they all need to be slayed. Comic books are a medium that teaches us time and time again that it’s possible, and even though the dragon or villain might be bigger and stronger than you, you’re smarter and tougher.

Know you’re Superman, even though you’re dressed like Clark Kent. It can be hard in the tech world, especially for someone like a developer, to feel like they’re a hero. Not everyone sees the things you create, villains (in this case bugs) that you destroy, or the people that you save. But that doesn’t matter, because the city needs you. Superheroes aren’t in it for constant praise, they do it because they love it and because it’s the right thing to do. And believe me, you are a superhero.

Avengers, assemble! As cheesy as it sounds, even superheroes need help sometimes. Sure, everyone has their own origin story, but when it comes to the mightiest of foes you’re going to need some backup. It can sometimes be hard to find heroes worthy of fighting by your side, or allies who believe in your cause. But when you do find them, your team will be unstoppable.

With great power, comes great responsibility. As I said earlier, you are a superhero, whether you like it or not. You are powerful, and chances are someone looks up to you. Luckily, it costs nothing for you to share your powers with others. It’s your responsibility to help make this world a better place. Whether your power is writing code, design, leading a team, or selling the hell out of your product, you should share that power. We are all here to change the planet, and the more powerful Earth’s heroes, the better.

Comics start as an idea, and with different combinations of four colours and 26 letters they create something both powerful, and empowering. They teach us that we are capable of amazing things, and our thoughts can change the world.

We should all explore these worlds where anything is possible, and I hope that when we do, we will bring that belief back with us.