The action, the mayhem, the battle between good and evil – Comic book
action movies are always fun to watch. Plus the fact that the good guys
always win in the end makes for a great escape from reality, even if it
is just for a couple of hours or so.
Iron Man has a great story. But did you know that there are (or we
could make up) business lessons that every tech leader could learn from
– and some you could probably avoid – but we’ll stick with the positive
Iron Man doesn’t need much in the way of an introduction, but just in
case you limit yourself to watching green screen terminals… The Marvel
superhero, Iron Man, is the alter ego of billionaire Tony Stark. Stark
was kidnapped by terrorists and forced to create a deadly weapon,
powerful enough to kill people at a massive scale.
creates a powerful armor to escape his masters, with the help of an
assistant who doesn’t make it out alive. This experience marks the
start of Iron Man’s career as your every day world-saving mech-suit-clad
The Iron Man movies were generally well-received by fans
and critics alike, earning billions of dollars for the movie franchise.
The most recent installment, Iron Man 3 is estimated to have grossed
$1.2 billion worldwide alone.
1. Look ahead and around corners
Whether you’re creating software, or writing a script, there will
eventually be a better idea than your go-to approaches and there
probably already is.
Tony Stark was obsessed with finding the perfect Iron Man suit, and
over the course of three Iron Mans, you’ll see a lot of suits, each one
better than the previous. Stark was never really satisfied with his
current suit, even though the Mark XLII suit served its purpose in the
finale battle.The best thing about tech is that you can always release a product or
feature to market and then roll out improvements ongoing, practically
as soon as they’re developed. Versioning, upgrades, patches, lean
Nevertheless, one thing holds true if you stay with version 1 all
your life: the usefulness of the software, script or tactic will
diminish over time. It will become obsolete and so will your role.
Learn, update and iterate to stay relevant. Subscribe to blogs and
forums, follow topic-expert users on social media and network with peers
to stay ahead. You should be going through dev and test cycles on a
regular basis with the new solutions you come across.
2. Don’t give up.
Iron Man can’t stop, won’t stop, especially in his technology
development process. From the same example, by planting a stake in the
ground with his first build, Stark knew his competitors would copy him
(see everything Apple), so he had to relentlessly innovate and iterate
to stay ahead. Not every iteration worked out or met the environmental
challenges (aka bad dudes trying to pulverize him). By the time Iron
Man ended, he was on suit #42.
Every tech leader has experienced failure in his or her work. The
trick is to never give up. If you don’t worship comic book heroes, you
can instead follow the examples of Bill Gates, Steve Job or go way back
to Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. If Edison had believed his teachers
when they said he was too stupid to learn, he wouldn’t have carved his
name into history and we would not know him as we do now. If Telsa had
bowed to Edison, the world would be worse for it.
3. Recognize and nurture opportunities
In Iron Man 3, the Mandarin made Tony Stark’s life a living hell,
putting his life and everyone he loved in danger. But did you know that
the Mandarin, aka Aldrich Killian, once sought Stark’s help for a
project Killian called Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM)?
Stark ignored and then shunned Killian, so he was left with no choice
but to work on the project on his own. Along the way, Killian created a
profitable business for himself, always with a chip on his shoulder and
a big target visualized on Stark’s back.
This story line sounds dubiously like the Yahoo and Google story.
Back in the day when Google was nothing but a ridiculous word and every
middle schooler’s favorite number, Yahoo lorded over the search engine
market, Sergey Brin and Larry Page
tried to sell
their algorithms to Yahoo for a mere $1 million. Brin and Page figured
that they wanted to stay in the academic world, doing research,
teaching, and perhaps coming up with the occasional software
development. Trying to run a business would definitely put a crimp in
that plan, so they considered dumping their algorithm in a sale to
After ignoring Google in 1997, Yahoo tried to acquire Google in 2002 –
the business and its algorithm, for $3 billion (3000X more than what
they would’ve paid five years earlier). As we all know, Google would
proceed to all but knock Yahoo out of the search engine game. Today,
Google is one of the biggest tech companies in the world while Yahoo’s
only (long) shot at a turnaround is from the leadership of a former
Tech leaders rule their workplace, but you never know what alliance
or partnership will become valuable, so it’s best to treat everyone you
meet with respect. That pesky junior architect can very well become the
Google to your Yahoo, the Mandarin to your Iron Man. But more than
this, you would need to see the potential in people and the gem behind
the idea. Even if the new idea doesn’t fit with your current approach,
as long as it has merit, give it some legs or at least sincere review.
Do the same with promising talents.
4. There should always be a Plan B, Plan C, and yes, even a Plan D.
As Stark came to the realization that his business brought more harm
than good, he didn’t have any qualms about shutting down his company’s
weapons division for a new direction in his business.
Evolve. The true mark of a tech leader leading a great tech business
is the ability to adapt. You need to be aware when your current way of
doing business has become ineffective and outdated.
Be sure to adapt to
the current market and business circumstances, embrace change, and look
for ways that would effectively address the situation. Don’t be afraid
of getting out of your comfort zone. Take a cue from Iron Man and Elon
Musk (basically the closest real-life thing we have to Tony Stark).
Elon Musk has worn many (ten-thousand-gallon) hats in companies
across a swath of industries. ATt Paypal, Musk offered his talent and
entrepreneurial spirit to help change how people exchanged money.
was instrumental in bringing clean energy to thousands of rooftops and
installs with SolarCity and electric vehicles at Tesla Motors (If you’ve
seen the launch/fail rate of that niche since the 70s, you know how
incredibly amazing this is). Now Musk is taking on another side-job,
trying to send everyday people beyond Earth with SpaceX, and who knows
what else is in Musk’s plans for 2014 and beyond!
Vision and peering around corners (whether at a worldwide scale or
industry/department-level) are the things that IT leaders can learn from
stories – fictional or otherwise. So feel free to geek out on your
favorite blockbuster, visionary or historic legend – it might just