Superman is the quintessential American superhero. Even more so than an initially obvious choice like Captain America, nothing embraces the image of an American hero quite like Superman. America has a global image of a superpower with seemingly unlimited powers. America is a nation of immigrants that became more powerful than anyone would have imagined, similar to the baby from Krypton that was Supermans Origin.
Just like our taste in comic books, the startup/business world has embraced the idea of Supermen. The list of single named heroes resonates with old and young alike: Jobs, Elon, Gates and Zuckerberg. Industries have been created around selling how to be more like the giants of the space. A google search of their names results in hundreds of articles telling you how to live more like Zuck, how to sleep like Elon, or even how to eat like Jobs. We deconstruct these Supermen so that we can be like these Supermen. Every college dropout feels like they are following a gameplan established by their predecessors. The track is laid out clearly for them to be at the helm of a billion dollar enterprise within a few years. We worship the Supermen so it only makes sense that their are hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs trying to become the next Superman. Here is the big problem with that culture.
No amount of jumping off the building with a cape will make us fly.
Welcome to the prison of the Bell Curve.
Intelligence is the Superpower of a Jobs or a Musk, so what does it take to become them?
For most people the answer is “Different parents”. The exact parameters of intelligence are hotly debated and are not the point of this article. While intelligence is like a muscle and you can move the chains of growth, you are still competing against billions of people who have a firm grasp of the concept of intelligence and who are also working to improve their muscle. If it takes at least 2 standard deviations above the norm to qualify as a Superman (it probably takes 3) then at least 95% of the population is already barred from entering the Justice League they want to be a part of. If we follow this loose rule of thumb for this thought exercise then only about 1/20 entrepreneurs actually have the superhero type intelligence to maybe qualify for the position they are seeking.
So should we run around with IQ tests banning people from launching startups that fall below 140 IQs? That doesn’t seem practical.
Should we downplay the importance of education and personal growth in intellect? Of course not, those are still absolute requirements of success.\
Should we engage in more Superhero analogies in order to provide a solution?
‘Holy Reshevsky Batman!” (That’s my version of a yes)
Enter the Bat
Forget Elon or Zuck, it you want to emulate your way to the top there is only one superhero first-name for you, Bruce! Bruce Wayne wasn’t born superfast, superstrong or supersmart…so how did he become the Batman? Spoilers ahead.
You read a book, you get smarter. The only problem? The guy next to you at Starbucks taking pics of his thicker book and cheese danish is hash-tagging #startupgrind. For every book you read someone is reading two. For every two you read someone is reading three. All this and you could still read a thousand books and never be as smart as Elon Musk the day after his first Mars landing suffering from a strong hangover.
Where is the edge? I will let you in on Bruce Wayne’s most sacred secret.
He is Batman.
No the other one.
Willpower is a muscle. The more you flex it, the stronger it gets. The secret? People are getting weaker over time. The same technology that is making our lives easier is robbing us of opportunities to become mentally stronger. To further demonstrate my point here is a picture with a fish.
That picture tells us that attention spans are shortening. We live in an instant culture and instant gratification has become a way of life.
Look at the startups that have the valuations you want to have. Instant cars to take you places, instant places to stay in cities you travel to, instant dates. As we build companies faster that deliver products faster people have less of a reason to be patience or endure a struggle.
What is willpower? It’s the ability to get rejected a hundred times when you are pitching investors and still smile when you pitch the 101st fur wearing Deville. Willpower is the ability to do hard things. WIllpower is the ability to do boring things. Not do a boring thing once, but repeatedly, for hours and days. Willpower is hitting the gym at 5am because any other time of day you will be inundated with phone calls and emails (and on startup insurance a $20.00 gym membership is a hell of a lot cheaper than any actual trip to the Doctor). Willpower can be not drinking for a few months because you have work to do. Willpower is a superpower.
Back to Batman. Batman spent 7-8 years slogging around the world as a homeless person with bad intentions. He trained with Ninjas, studied with monks, farmed a little. He did the work, he built his willpower. Then he came back to Gotham and was given back his families fortune. Billions of dollars were in his hands and you know what he did? He invested the vast majority of his liquid capital into becoming a crime fighter. Putting his body on the line night after night to make the city a safer place. Every cracked rib? Willpower. Every night he left a Russian ballerina at the club citing stomach pain so he could have criminals shoot at him? Willpower.
Bruce Wayne was born rich and soft. Willpower made him Batman. He didn’t choose to be Batman. He chose to build willpower, day by painfully slow day. Bruce left on his 8 year journey a Wayne and came back a Batman.
That’s a ven Diagram. Here is a little bonus lesson on supply and demand. If everyone is smart, being smart is great, but it is no longer an edge. Batman became an actual superhero by building his willpower to Superhero levels. Meanwhile society as a whole is becoming mentally weaker as technology does more and more work for us. Think of the edge you could gain if you were just plain tougher than the other founders in your space. Think of how much you would stand out from the the pack if you just didn’t complain. If you did more than you vined. If you did the stuff that wasn’t sexy like cleaning your office after a party. Waking up early to work out so you can network that night after work. Willpower. Every time you do something hard the next thing becomes that much easier.
Everything comes back to investment. You spend your time trying to become things and business minded folks are constantly trying to get a stronger ROI.
You could try to be Superman for a million years and never learn to fly.
Or you could build willpower for 7-8 years and become Batman.
Invest your time wisely.
* and please fight crime responsibly.