Business Lessons from The Hunger Games

Hunger Games Vertical Large Business lessons can be found anywhere – be they delivered by the proverbial Ant and Grasshopper, or delivered by a grey-haired professor at a podium. On a recent flight I got the opportunity to watch the Hunger Games and see what the fuss was all about. It was a fine movie although I confess I didn’t quite see what the phenomenon was all about – although the archery was fun.

What I kept thinking about during the movie, aside from wondering if I was going to make my connection, was how applicable Katniss’ struggles were to business. She may not have discussed TCOs, discounted cash flows and ROIs, but her journey holds more than a few lessons for business people.

Spoiler alerts – if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book some of the key scenes will be discussed here.

The lessons aren’t exactly new, rather they are ilustrations of classic lessons most people already know.

  1. Always Cultivate Allies – you may not always want to do so but in business you absolutely need allies and support both internally and externally. At one point Katniss has been tree’d like a raccoon while her competitors are trying to kill her. It’s only with the help of an ally that she realizes how she can escape her predicament. Eventually she will have to compete with this ally but not right then, making the alliance very smart.
  2. Marketing Matters – in a pivotal scene near the beginning of the story Katniss and the fellow competitor from her district are entered in a parade of contestants. Katniss couldn’t care less but her advisors realize how important the moment really is. She is skeptical of the impact but ultimately follows the advice of her advisors making a dynamic entrance and leaving a powerful impression which pays dividends later in the movie.
  3. This isn't the cornucopia in the movie.

    This isn’t the cornucopia in the movie.

    Don’t do what everyone else does – a key scene involves the hunger games contestants racing towards a cornucopia of supplies which quickly turns into a carnage fest as multiple contestants are killed. This has parallels in many industries – the most spectacular being, until recently at least, the OEM PC market. Almost all the manufacturers chose to drive out costs by making computers as generic as possible competing on price and not style or performance.

    This worked well in the short-term but it created a massive opportunity for a company that “thinks different”. Which it exploited, tremendously well. Of course in business the race is never really over – so leading for a few years is no guarantee that’ll you be leading in a few more years, or even be around.

  4. Be careful who your allies are – While you have to cultivate support be careful with who and how you do it – be it internally in political battles or externally with partners and customers. Make sure you understand what is motivating them and remember while you may be allies your interests may not be fully aligned long-term even if they align in the short-term.
  5. Get creative –  when you don’t have the resources that everyone else has you have to figure out a different way to get the job done. This is also true even if you have a ton of resources, and some might say it is even important when you do have a lot of resources. In the Hunger Games Katniss’ opponents were much better equipped and much stronger. But remember even if you are in great shape – if you stop using your brain you won’t survive.
  6. Change the Rules – at the beginning of the Hunger Games there is only one winner but Katniss decides she doesn’t like that outcome because it means that she has to kill the person from her own district so they set up a situation where there’ll either be two winners or no winners. Changing the rules keeps your competitors on their toes and it forces you to think creatively.
  7. You can’t escape.  Don’t run from the trouble – be it from your customers or the marketplace. At one point during the competition Katniss tries to outrun trouble but the game organizers make it impossible for her continue. All she has to show for her trouble is a wounded leg which makes competing that much harder. The number of examples of companies that tried to ignore warning signs only to injure themselves in the process is lengthy and growing all the time.
  8. Seek Sponsors. The hunger games calls them sponsors but mentors are much the same thing. Even if you are “alone” in your business, find sponsors to help you look at problems from another perspective, give you critical, unbiased feedback and help make connections. No matter how good you are, a sponsor can make you better.
  9. It’s never really over. Even after Katniss “won” she had to keep alert and keep competing for hearts and minds. Don’t let the big deal you won yesterday make you sluggish and sloppy as you compete for the deals of tomorrow. Too many companies rest on their laurels

And remember “May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor”. -t

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