As adults, we create stories for our kids that are meant to convey moral lessons; we create stories and movies that entertain and educate. Sometimes we would do ourselves good by listening to the morals lessons we weave for our children and apply those lessons to our own lives. I recently watched two animated children's movies that taught me some lessons about business that I won't soon forget. Those two films are The Lego Movie and Kung Fu Panda. Both of these movies each feature a normal main character (well as normal as a talking lego man and martial arts practicing panda get) who accidentally stumbles into the hero role and spends the whole movie searching for the special ingredient that will help them vanquish the villains in the films (President Business and Tai Lung, respectively). In both movies, the moral of the story and the resolution of the search for the secret to their success is the same. The secret is that there is no secret; the special is inside of each and every one of us and only by looking inside of ourselves and believing in what we are trying to accomplish can we be successful against our enemies. Managers and leaders in organizations can learn a great deal from this message; let's look at the scenes of the movies where these messages occur and what we can learn from them. Ultimately, The Lego Movie and Kung Fu Panda both teach us valuable management lessons about creating cultures of success.
In The Lego Movie, Emmet Brickowoski is facing down President Business. As President Business is about to complete his dastardly plot, Emmet holds up his hand to President Business and asks him to take it. He explains that his secret weapon of the special entails believing in what we can do together. Emmet says, "I want you to join me. Look at all these things people built." President Business then complains about how all those people built things that disrupted his perfect, orderly world. Emmet responds, "Ok, what I see are people inspired by each other and by you. People taking what you made and making something new out of it." Throughout The Lego Movie, the viewer learns of a central conflict between the master builders (innovators, creators, builders, founders) and President Business (monopoly on fun, micro-manager, etc). As a leader and manager in an organization, it is important to hire and create a team of master builders who aren't afraid of taking your vision and building something new with it. This is how innovation occurs within a company; you have a team of master builders all inspired by their leader and their team members to create new inspiring things.
Then there's the movie's theme song that plays repetitively during different parts of the movie and is incredibly catchy. The main hook starts off. "Everything is Awesome! Everything is cool when you're a part of a team. Everything is Awesome, when you're living for a dream!" Isn't this the exact message we want to deliver to our team. Don't we want our employees to believe and feel that everything is awesome when they are a part of your team working together towards a common dream. This is the essence of culture; as a manager you want to create a culture where there is alignment between individual and corporate goals (we highly recommend you read The Alliance by Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, for more on this subject).
In Kung Fu Panda, we learn of the Legend of the Dragon Warrior; this warrior is supposed to present themselves as worthy of the Dragon Scroll and its secret that will give its bearer the power to defeat all enemies. Tai Lung, the bad jungle cat martial arts expert, thought he was worthy of the scroll but was denied it once. He is after it again but gets defeated by Po, an orphan panda raised by a goose who owns a noodle restaurant. He is an overweight klutz who is the opposite of everyone's definition of a typical hero. After accidentally getting selected as the Dragon Warrior, Po trains intensely to become worthy of the scroll. The scroll ends up being blank and reflecting back to the warrior their own image. At first Po doesn't understand the message; however, his dad tells him how the secret ingredient to his famous noodle soup is nothing. It is just believing in making a good soup. The lesson here is clear; as a manager you should be focused on making good soup (i.e. a good product) and believing in yourself, your team, and your product that it is special and the best damn soup on the market. Your team will become a clan of kung fu experts who all are focused on making the company's unique value proposition crystal clear to your customers.
Management lessons come in all shapes and sizes. One cannot forget Dr. Seuss' management and life lessons in tales such as Yertle the Turtle, The Lorax, and The Places You'll Go. It is important to take a step back and use these fantasy stories to re-orient our management and leadership styles. Lets take to hear the lessons we teach our children and begin to believe in each other and the work we are doing as the most important thing that can make us successful in business.
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