(From Forbes) -- Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has been both a critical and commercial success. The entire series is on its way to earning $2 billion, and critics have acclaimed the series of films as the best in the superhero genre. This trilogy has succeeded because of its sheer quality. Nolan’s Batman movies are more than just action-packed extravaganzas – they’re meditations. Meditations on what it means to be a superhero. Meditations on the nature of civil society and its institutions. As a consequence, there’s a lot that we can learn from these three movies that can help us build and lead our own organizations. Here are five such lessons.
(Be warned! This discussion includes plot elements from The Dark Knight Rises. If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop here.)
1. Organizations Need To Be Built Around Ideas, Not People
“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.”
In Batman Begins, one key aspect of Bruce Wayne’s desire to become Batman is so that he can be a symbol of something. A beacon of hope so that people can aspire to do better. This is a thread that continues through all three films, particularly The Dark Knight Rises, where Batman is honored as the savior of the city, not Bruce Wayne or any one person. Pointedly, Wayne says at the end of the film, “A hero can be anyone.” Indeed, one of the major themes of The Dark Knight Rises is the consequences of the mistake made in The Dark Knight. By holding up Harvey Dent, in particular, as a role model, Batman and Gordon were forced to cover up his crimes committed as Two-Face. That cover-up led to some of the bad things that happened in the third film.
What lesson can we take away from this? Well, the people who build great organizations and companies are often larger-than-life. They drive their businesses forward with their energy and passion. But one problem that such organizations face is that when they become completely identified with a single person, their fortunes can rise and fall based on what that one person does.
You can see two diametrically opposed versions of this with two companies associated with the late Steve Jobs, Apple and Pixar. Apple is indelibly associated with Steve Jobs. He built the company with Steve Wozniak, and most of the companies products were based on one vision: his. After Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985, the company did enjoy some success – notably in the late 80s and early 90s, but the company floundered again until Jobs returned to the top spot in 1997. After that, Apple began its ascent to tech industry heights, largely driven by Steve Jobs’ vision for consumer products. As a result, Apple thrived, but also became synonymous with Jobs. Since Jobs passed away last year, many analysts see the company as floundering, with our own Anthony Kosner accusing the once innovative company as “playing it safe.”
By contrast, Pixar was also a company largely driven by Steve Jobs, who served as its Chairman of the Board and later its CEO. But while Apple was driven by Jobs’ vision for consumer products, Pixar was driven by an ethos of storytelling. That ethos is strongly held by the animators and writers of Pixar movies, who are committed to the high level of quality that have given the company enormous critical and commercial success. After Jobs’ departure from Pixar, the company remained strong, pushing out some of its best movies such as Up and Wall-E. By building on an ideal of strong storytelling, rather than one man’s vision, Pixar has built an enduring brand.