5 Business & Life Lessons from “The Hunger Games”
“The Hunger Games” is one of the most compelling phenomenons that has swept through our culture in the last ten years. The success of the book series by Suzanne Collins and the recent film from Lionsgate is unprecedented and has gained a lot of attention in the media and social networks alike.
The story of Katniss Everdeen’s fight against the manipulative powers of the ruling government of her day has inspired millions around the world — and at the same time, there are vital lessons for us as prospective business owners to glean from Collins’ series.
Be warned, there are a few plot ‘spoilers’ below so if you haven’t read the books or watched the film, you may not want to read further until you do!
1.) Work together: The odds are really not in your favor
“May the odds be ever in your favor!”
The classic line from the opening ceremony of the Hunger Games is certainly one of the most ironic and laughable statements made throughout the entire series:
24 people go into an arena, and there can only be one winner.
I think it’s safe to say that the odds really aren’t the greatest for survival in an arena that is full of competition and failure at almost every turn. The system is designed in a way to bring destruction, not victory.
Only those who truly learn how to work the system to their advantage even have a chance at survival. The odds for long term survival in the business arena aren’t much better.
The Small Business Administration of the US government reports the following regarding the survival rate of small business startups in the US:
“Seven out of 10 new employer firms survive at least 2 years, half at least 5 years, a third at least 10 years, and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more. Census data report that 69 percent of new employer establishments born to new firms in 2000 survived at least 2 years, and 51 percent survived 5 or more years.
Survival rates were similar across states and major industries. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on establishment age show that 49 percent of establishments survive 5 years or more; 34 percent survive 10 years or more; and 26 percent survive 15 years or more.”
(Source: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Census Bureau, Business Dynamics Statistics; U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BED.)
Nobody likes starting things and then not finishing them. However, one of the ways that you will have higher chances of long term success in the business arena is by working together with people of like mind and vision.
In the same way that Katniss banded together with Rue and Peeta, despite the knowledge that the rules of the arena stated there could be only one victor, it would do you well to find others who have similar goals and passions to work with as you start your business.
The rules of the game are always changing, so do yourself a favor and partner up with people who will be able to offer you ideas that you would not (or could not) have seen on your own.
When Katniss had been driven up into the tree, her competition seemingly having backed her into a corner, all it took was a different perspective from Rue to show Katniss the edge she needed to get ahead. This brings us to our next point.
2.) When in doubt, get another perspective.
The key to winning in your business might be right within your reach, but oftentimes we can have a hard time seeing it. Katniss had been feeling hopeless about the possibility of her surviving much longer. The other Tributes had run her up in a tree and were prepared to just wait until she was forced to come down in order to take her out.
For all intents and purposes, it looked like her future was bleak. It wasn’t until she gained Rue’s perspective on the matter that she saw that victory really was within her reach. If she had not been willing to not only partner with someone else, but also listen to that person’s perspective, she would have spent a lot more time waiting up in that tree and very well may not have ended up winning!
If you are in a situation in your life or business and are having a hard time figuring out what to do next, ditch your pride, humble yourself, and admit that you need help. For the most part, people are good natured and will be happy to offer you their opinion on the issues you may be facing.
Just make sure that you’re not seeking the wisdom and counsel of someone who is notoriously very pessimistic and unhelpful!
That of course sounds like a no-brainer, but unfortunately many people will simply resort to complaining whenever the going gets tough—and instead of seeking for help to finding the solution, they will look for someone that they can start a griping session with! Don’t hang around negative people—their perspective is not one that you want.
The kind of counsel you want is the kind that comes from people who have achieved the kinds of things you are trying to achieve. Katniss Everdeen’s mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, was a former Hunger Games victor. What what his advice to her for the start of the games?
Get away from the bloodshed right from the start and go find water…and that brings us to our next point.
3.) Direct Confrontation VS. Staying Alive
Right after the Tributes from all 12 districts were brought into the arena, many of them made the mistake of running towards the very attractive cornucopia of supplies and weaponry. It was a slaughter of massive proportions. Haymitch knew this is what usually takes place, and he also knew that Katniss had never experienced that kind of direct conflict before.
He implored her to ignore the temptation to go after the bow-and-arrow at the cornucopia and instead to let the other Tributes fight it out while she went seeking water to sustain her survival long-term.
The same goes for the business arena. Directly confronting your competition when you first start out is a bad idea. They are bigger, stronger, and more powerful than you…but you can play this to your advantage.
Focus first on establishing yourself and your brand in a safe environment away from the competition before showing up to play. Get good at learning your market environment long before going on the offensive.
As the statistics above show, it is over the long haul that most businesses end up folding in on themselves. Haymitch knew that Katniss’ only chance of winning the Hunger Games lay in teaching her to do the few things from the start that would sustain her survival throughout her entire time in the arena.
There were indeed times when direct confrontation took place and she was required to deal with her competition, but what set her apart from them was that she had established herself in the skills that would keep her going longer where others had not.
For example, eating well is a must when you go into business for yourself. You need to maintain a lot more focus and energy when you are your own boss as opposed to the typical 9-5 drudgery. Katniss was able to thrive because she not only was eating healthy but also knew HOW to get the food for her family long before she entered the Hunger Games arena. She had spent extended time honing her hunting skills because those skills led to fulfilling her and her family’s most basic needs.
Focus more on the basics than trying to be fancy. The skills you have that will bring in your food (income) are often also the same ones that, when used properly, will put you ahead of your competition.
Remember when Katniss’ bow-and-arrow skills that she had learned with years of practice in the forest were the same ones that helped her blow up the competition’s mountain of supplies? Same principle.
If you want to see success in the business arena, it is imperative that you figure out the essential survival skills for your business and market and stay in an area where they are easily accessible.
For example, if you want to learn from the best computer and technology experts in the world, you probably would want to connect with people in Silicon Valley in California long before seeking the advice of Starbucks employees on a university campus.
With that, we’re on to the next tip.
4.) Learn from the experts
It would be completely foolish to ask Michael Jordon for tips on how to perform brain surgery. It would be equally foolish to seek the counsel of an eye doctor for how to run for President of the United States.
In the same way, it would have been foolish for Katniss to study the methods of the losing Tributes to try and see what she should be doing to win.
You can certainly learn from the mistakes of others—but if you really want to see success, then you ought to be seeking the wisdom of those who are already successful. Haymitch spent a good deal of time instructing Katniss and Peeta on what to do and what not to do when they entered the Hunger Games. Why?
Because he was a former victor. He knew the ins and outs of how the Games worked much better than those who had never been there themselves.
Anybody can shout at their television when watching a football game when the quarterback calls a play that they don’t think they should have. But at the end of the day, the quarterback was the one on the field doing the work, and those other folks are sitting in their LA-Z-Boy armchair and are nothing but talk.
Actions speak much louder than words — and the words of those who have achieved the success that you are seeking are almost always words describing their actions.
Theodore Roosevelt said it like this:
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
Whatever your field, seek out mentors and counsel from those who have gone before you. That could mean reading a lot of books from successful people in your type of business, or actually seeking out face to face interaction with those experts.
Either way, make sure to ignore the arm-chair critics and listen to the ones who actually have done what you are trying to do — they’re the only folks whose advice really matters. The rest are just naysayers and haters are gonna hate!
This brings us to our final point.
5.) Ditch the haters, defy the odds and beat the system
Despite the foreboding rules and regulations that the Capitol had imposed on Katniss and Peeta, they still managed to believe in themselves and their vision of a better future enough to come out on top.
Where the rules explicitly stated that there could only be one victor, the two of them together were able to defy those ‘rules’ and win the hearts of the people enough to see the rules of the game change in their favor.
In the same way, as you grow and learn your market and customer base, make sure to consciously surround yourself with positive people who believe in you and will help you succeed. Don’t let the naysayers drag you down into the depression of their own boring lives.
Don’t listen to the people who say that the rules can’t be bent or broken and exercise your creativity to see things change as others eat their words.
Peeta and Katniss defied the seemingly impossible odds that a massive conglomerate system of control had imposed on them. That system was designed to break and destroy them, yet they leveraged their own passions, creativity, and wisdom from those who had gone before them to stand defiantly in victory in front of those who had insisted that they could never win.
As mentioned earlier, the odds you face are indeed stacked against you. However, that is all just a matter of perspective. Unfortunately, many business owners do not study the habits and methods of those who are successful in their fields. They do not seek the perspective of others, and often will try to directly confront their competition long before they have established their customer base.
Very few small business owners actually will endeavor to work together with another small business in the same field…and instead choose to surround themselves with people who haven’t accomplished much at all and spend most of their time complaining and naysaying.
If you apply these principles and learn the value of perseverance and believing in yourself and your vision, you will stand out from your competition from day one. The reality that you believe the most to be true will show itself in your life, in your business, and in your relationships.
Katniss and Peeta believed in something stronger than the Capitol’s petty controlling games. They believed in standing for what was right and good and demonstrated that doing so helped them to overcome the odds that were meant to break them.
You can do the same in your businesses and in your life. Some of the most successful people in the world are people who dropped out of the typical rat-race of college-education-to-try-and-get-a-good-job-and-retire-then-die and created technologies, products and services that have changed the planet forever.
The choice is yours — be a pawn in a game that is designed to break your spirits and turn you into a mindless drone working a 9-5 for someone else, or make your own rules and live your life to its fullest and demonstrate that there really is a better way to do things.
I have decided to choose the latter every time.