Business Lessons From Black Panther

As in the superhero film, corporate leaders wrestle with transforming or maintaining their company culture.

A futuristic fantasy, a high-tech spy adventure, a cultural event. That’s how millions of moviegoers and critics describe the blockbuster film, Black Panther, taking the world by storm.

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Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

This action thriller pairs high-powered action with technology, innovation and transformation.

The sci-fi flick about the aforementioned superhero shattered box office records, with the highest-grossing February weekend opening.

Raking in more than $250 million during its premiere and another $108 million during the second weekend, and now topping $1 billion overall, Black Panther will become one of the biggest movies of all time.

A closer look at Wakanda

Marvel Comics’ latest installment takes place in Wakanda, a fictional African land that – on the surface – resembles any other impoverished, developing nation.

But au contraire: Look a little closer and discover that Wakanda is actually the most scientifically advanced and wealthiest nation in the world. The region sits on a mountain of vibranium, an extraterrestrial, virtually indestructible metal that absorbs sonic vibrations.

For thousands of years, the Wakandan people secretly have mined the valuable metal, transforming their agricultural society into a thriving futuristic society of super-sized tech.

Vibranium powers their cities and superfast magnetic levitation (maglev) train system, and it’s woven into Black Panther’s armored suit (the same metal was used to make Captain America’s shield).

Their ingenuity and hard work gives rise to stealth ships, cool communication devices and great spy gear.

Wrist-mounted holograms facilitate 3D chats, Kimoyo beads function as cell phones and shock- and sound-absorbent “sneakers” form around Black Panther’s feet.

A modern parallel

As with most comics, the storyline pits good versus evil, with warring factions vying for leadership. But the main character, prince-turned-king T’Challa/Black Panther, also wrestles with the moral, political and social pressures of his newfound position.

T’Challa seeks to advance his country technologically while preserving its tribal tradition, uniting all the tribes and protecting his country – and the rest of the world.

His challenges parallel those of modern business leaders. Like T’Challa, today’s corporate executives wrestle with whether to transform their business or maintain their culture and whether to develop new capabilities in-house or partner for that expertise.

Here are other lessons from this comic universe:

Innovate, innovate, innovate

Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved,” says Shuri, the leader of Wakanda’s science and technological developments, before showing off more upgrades and innovations.

In a digital global world, technology crosses every sector of the economy. Consumer demand for bigger, faster and better beckons tomorrow’s tech today, and they want products that add convenience and value to their lives.

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Gaining and keeping a competitive edge requires moving quickly, creating instantly and failing fast.

The accelerating pace of change shortens product life cycles, so today’s innovation may turn relic in a few years. Manufacturers scramble to bring new and better products to market as quickly as possible.

Gaining and keeping a competitive edge requires agile decision-making and execution – move quickly, create instantly and fail fast.

Start with a culture of innovation that invites a continuous exchange of ideas from everyone in the organization.

Collaborate internally to develop and deploy innovative technology that lowers costs, increases efficiency and solves business problems. And do it with urgency, asking questions like: What next and how soon?

Conquer or be conquered

As the only apparent heir to the throne, T’Challa prepares for what should be an uneventful coronation ceremony and quiet reign as king. Not so (it wouldn’t be a comic without cunning challengers and formidable foes around every corner).

As the world becomes more connected, interconnected and flattened, it also becomes more competitive, nationally and globally. The fierce competitive landscape requires leaders to fight to maintain their company’s market share amid uncertain market conditions while protecting their brand’s reputation.

Identify potential internal and external threats early and employ proactive strategies. Go on the offense instead of reacting to changing economic and political conditions. Take calculated risks to differentiate your brand from competitors.

Be willing to change and transform your organization continuously. Change is good, and holding tightly to a decades- or centuries-old culture may stifle innovation and growth.

Partner for progress

When T’Challa expresses fear about assuming the throne, his father advises him to surround himself with people he trusts.

Regardless of size, no single company can thrive alone. Partnerships, collaboration and outsourcing are key to growth.

Research shows that more than 64 percent of businesses outsource services to gain access to functional expertise, reduced costs and greater operational flexibility. Outsourcing enables smaller and mid-market companies to focus on their core competencies so they can grow.

Partner with companies that share your culture and understand your business. A Fortune magazine study revealed that 60 percent of global executives surveyed prioritized culture when choosing a business partner over innovation or market dominance.

Embrace diversity

After centuries of war, Wakanda achieved peace as the five tribes united under single leadership. The country is also protected by the Dora Milaje, an all-female, army of brave, strong and skilled warriors who kick butt. And the head of science and tech is none other than the pint-sized, 16-year-old genius little sister of the king, Shuri.

Fresh ideas come from diverse perspectives, and thriving companies create cultures with a variety of genders, backgrounds and ages. Our increasingly diverse workforce – with more females, minorities and younger workers – alters the way companies attract and retain talent and establish innovative cultures.

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Almost 47 percent of American workers are women.

Women now play a larger role in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 47 percent of American workers are women. These 74.6 million women hold more professional and managerial roles. And women own close to 10 million businesses, accounting for $1.4 trillion in receipts.

Seek new talent that does not fit a certain profile. Cultivate a diverse and inclusive work environment that encourages engagement and empowers employees to share ideas, question decisions and challenge the status quo. Focus on improving the overall employee experience by investing in employees, motivating them to achieve more and enabling them to do so.

Create global good

Wakanda hides its technological dominance to keep vibranium out of the wrong hands and to protect their country. However, isolation prevents Wakanda from helping others outside of the country.

Companies like UPS also recognize the dangers of isolation from the rest of the world.

“We serve a global community with the power to connect more people, send commerce to more people and improve the livelihood of more people around the world,” said UPS CEO David Abney.

An estimated 95 percent of today’s consumers live outside the U.S., so progressive companies operate beyond their geographic borders.

They think locally but act globally to capture a share of the international market. They export and develop a global infrastructure of tools and processes that embrace exporting.

And they also give back. Companies like UPS provide financial support to help deliver blood and vaccines to patients in hard-to-reach places, help communities get back on their feet after a natural disaster and help refugees find safety in a new country.

They’re no superheroes, but that type of commitment would make even Black Panther proud.

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Steve Strauss is a best-selling author, USA TODAY small business columnist, spokesperson and global speaker.

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