Why so serious? This is what I’m guessing Adam West (the Batman of the 60s would have said if he were watching The Dark Night Trilogy, a set of three Batman movies by Christopher Nolan. Gone were the days of the ‘Bam’, ‘Pow’ Batman. Nolan’s 2008 movie truly did bring the Dark Knight to life in a gritty real-world take.
I have been a Batman fan for as long as I can remember. As I child, I remember going to the cinema in 1992, as a 6-year-old, to watch Batman Returns, arguably one of the darker takes on Batman. However, for most of my life, I’ve enjoyed the Batman Movies and the Animated Series as pure entertainment. It was not until I started this Movie Business series of articles that I started to look at old and new movies with a different lens and understand what parallels and business lessons we can take from them.
If you haven’t seen the movie, firstly, what’s wrong with you? I’ll provide you with the TLDR version. Batman is now a successful Vigilante hero in Gotham after cleaning up the streets. He is faced with his greatest challenge, The Joker, played by an exceptional Heath Ledger, who steals the movie. The Joker is an agent of Chaos. His mentality is perfectly captured by this quote from Alfred “Some people just want to watch the world burn”.
Batman must stop The Joker from wreaking havoc on Gotham and upending all that everyone knows.
Spoiler Alert! This isn’t about Wayne Enterprises!
For those who think this will be an article about the business lessons that we can learn from Wayne Enterprises, the hugely successful corporate conglomerate that Bruce Wayne operates during the day, you would be mistaken. Instead, we will see how Batman draws parallels and shows the traits that any start-up founder should have to succeed.
1. Have a Clear Vision
One of the first things Batman teaches us is to have a Clear Vision. Batman wants to save innocent people and protect Gotham. His vision is clear. When the Joker begins to cause chaos, threatens the people of Gotham, and tries to disrupt the vision and go against everything Batman stands for, Batman is clear that he must stop The Joker to protect the people of Gotham and save his city.
Batman also knows he must go to great lengths to achieve this vision and push himself further than ever. He knows he must do what must be done to succeed and protect Gotham as shown by this quote “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself turn into a villain.”
By the end of the movie Batman sacrifices himself and his reputation and image to appear as the villain in order to save the city and prevent chaos from erupting when he takes the responsibility for the death of Harvey Dent. He does not want to let the people know that Harvey turned into a villain, as he was Gotham’s Golden Boy.
What does this show us about business? Plenty! It shows that you must have a clear vision in your start-up. As a founder, if you fail to set that clear vision for yourself, your business, and your team, you will all be traveling on different paths in different directions to different goals. This will cause your start-up to fail as you will all be wasting time, effort, and ultimately money. You will drive your start-up into the ground.
Another critical lesson Batman can teach us is adaptability. The Joker displays numerous plans that are all different throughout the film—from the opening bank heist to the takeover of Gotham’s underground to the end goal of setting a ship of prisoners against a ship of civilians. The Joker never repeats the same trick and forces Batman to adapt and change with each encounter. Batman needs to be innovative in his problem-solving and create new methods to defeat the Joker.
Just as in business, nothing will be the same, and you will rarely face the same problem twice. If you do face the same problem twice, you will generally have a solution to it as by then, it becomes a part of your process. But having the ability to adapt to the problems at hand is of utmost importance as the business world is a moving and changing beast. Without the ability to adapt to changing circumstances or changes in the markets you’re operating in, your business will fail. Being able to be adaptive and staying clear about your vision will help drive long-term success.
Being adaptive doesn’t always mean just responding to what’s happening. It’s being flexible in your approach and having a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t work. Having a Plan B or C and D is needed as it shows that you have thought through multiple paths forward and clearly understand the issues that you’re facing. This is shown in the Dark Knight during the great chase scene with the Tumbler and the Joker in a Semi Trailer. We see that the Tumbler gets destroyed, but do we see Batman disappear and crumble as his Plan A fails? No, we see the emergence of the Batpod from the ruins of the Tumbler.
Plan B emerges and allows Batman to make progress. Batman had his Plan A to use his Tumbler, but then he thought about the scenarios he would face in the future and created his Plan B. He was adaptable but had planned for the worst case and created a Plan B.
3. Take Calculated Risks
Just as you must in business, not every decision will be made correctly, and not every dice roll will roll your way. However, it would be best if you took those calculated risks. Having the Batpod is a Plan B. That said, there was no guarantee that the Batpod would work. What if that part of the Tumbler was destroyed? Taking risks is essential in business and especially in a start-up. By risks, I don’t mean betting it all on one number in Roulette. It’s more about taking a calculated and measured approach to a problem and understanding the potential outcome and return on investment. As a start-up, you have a limited budget and runway and in order to succeed you must make more decisions that return a positive than a negative. You can bet big and get a huge upside as a reward. However, these risks also have the huge downside risk of needing more time and money, both of which are limited.
Batman exemplifies risk taking by showing us that he is willing to take extreme measures and put himself in danger to stop The Joker. There are many risks he takes throughout the film. He does so because those risks were necessary for achieving success and defeating the Joker. If you only play it safe and do what everyone else is doing, you will never get ahead of the competition. But if you take silly risks, you will also fail. Proceed with caution but think through the outcomes and have your Plan A and B and make those calculated risks work to your benefit.
4. Focus on Team Work
Having a vision, being adaptable, and taking risks will only take you so far on your own. Without a team following you and driving towards the same vision you will fail as a business. Having a team beside you allows you to leverage each other’s strengths and mitigate weaknesses. Without a great team by your side, you will not have the experience nor ability, or time to do all that must be done to take a start-up from an idea to a thriving successful business. Batman is not a lone Bat; he works with a team. In the comics and previous movies, we see him with Robin and Alfred, and the broader team is shown in the comics, cartoons, and games.
Within the Dark Knight, he works with the Gotham City Police Department and Commissioner Gordon. They work together to formulate plans with a common goal of stopping the Joker. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have the right people by your side to embrace your vision and work together to achieve those goals.
5. Have Integrity
Batman also lives by a very strict moral code; he does not kill. He follows this strictly and highlights integrity. He never waivers in pursuing justice for those who cannot help themselves. He even puts himself in harm’s way to stick with this code.
Be like Batman and have integrity and a moral code. Use this to inform your culture and imbue your team with a sense of purpose to do the right thing. It may not always be easy to do the right thing and you should not shy away from it as it is what will ultimately help guide you toward success. There are many shortcuts that can be taken in business. However, these shortcuts also have unintended consequences. Having integrity and operating your business with a culture of morality and integrity will ensure you avoid those unintended consequences and is another factor that will ensure you achieve success.
The final thing we can take away from The Dark Knight is perseverance, a trait that is necessary for any start-up founder. Just like Batman, you will be faced with many challenges throughout your business journey and just like Batman, you shouldn’t give up. Batman continues to fight for what he believes in when it seems impossible, he doesn’t let the Joker succeed.
Driving your business forward and persevering through difficult times or tough decision is necessary for you to come out stronger and better on the other side. We see this in the real world through downturns in business. The businesses that don’t persevere or have all the traits we’ve talked about ultimately fail and the ones that can adapt and follow their vision, take risks, and rally their team to move forward come out of the other end stronger and better.
The Dark Knight is not just one of the most critically acclaimed superhero movies, nor is it just one of the most successful. It’s a great Batman story that entertains us and amazes us. We are treated to something special with Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. However, if we look a little deeper, under the mask, we can see that Batman shows the traits and ideologies of any start-up founder that wants to be successful.
Batman, time and time again, shows that we need to have the following:
- Clear Vision
- Plan B
- Ability to Take Risks
- Focus on Teamwork
Now while you can’t become Batman by following and applying these traits and ideologies, you can increase your chances of success in this competitive and difficult world of business and see yourself standing on top of the competition.