Everything I Know About Business I Learned From Tony Stark

Ok, not EVERYTHING. But when it comes to biz advice, genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark is not a bad place to start. First, a little background for the uninitiated:

Tony Stark is a comic book character, created in the 1960’s by Stan Lee of Spiderman and Marvel Comics fame, and most recently brought to life by Robert Downey, Jr. in 2008’s Iron Man. The character is a cocky and hotheaded inventor/industrialist who built an empire designing and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, but after sustaining a severe chest injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempted to force him to build THEM a weapon, he instead built a suit of armor to save his own life and escape. He now protects the world as Iron Man.

The author as Tony Stark for Halloween

Me as "Casual Friday Tony Stark",
Halloween 2011, with my daughters

I like the Iron Man concept (and execution, frankly) a LOT. I like Robert Downey, Jr. a LOT (in fact, I’m trying to get him to have lunch with me). As unlikely as it may seem, I think there are a few things to learn from him that are relevant to small business:

  • Turn Your Vulnerabilities Into Strengths
    In order to keep shrapnel away from his heart, Tony invented a miniature “arc reactor” that’s permanently embedded in his chest. Without it, he dies…and yet it also powers his mechanical suit, which makes him “invincible”. A whole cadre of small business bloggers (of which I’m one) tackled this topic in May 2012: check out what we had to say here. The short version is that the odd bits about you – the things that make you weird, quirky, and vulnerable – are the things that make you HUMAN, and therefore relatable to other humans…and therefore able to engage them emotionally, which is what good storytelling AND good business are all about.
  • When You Do Something Awesome – Or Make A Huge Mistake – Hold A Press Conference
    When RDJ’s Tony Stark returns from captivity with the revelation that the very weapons he’s built to protect America are being used against it, he immediately – like, scratches on face, arm still in sling – holds a press conference to announce the decommissioning of all his company’s weapons manufacturing while they reassess and figure out how to make a different contribution to the world. This is of course met with a collective gasp from the industrial and military worlds and his own business partners…I don’t suggest popping a surprise change in direction on those who should be in the know, but the principle of identifying something that doesn’t work or is no longer serving your values and dropping it is still solid. Later, after his Iron Man armor successfully defeats the film’s villain, Tony holds another press conference, where he’s encouraged to recite a narrative deemed acceptable to the public. Instead, he blows the lid off of the sacred “secret identity” code. If you do something sucky, say you’re sorry…and it’s okay to admit to being awesome, too.
  • Improve Relentlessly
    The spare parts suit that Tony invents to save his own life originally was something of a marvel (pun acknowledged), but when he gets home, he immediately sets about improving the design. Then, after he’s invented AND manufactured the most awesome thing ever AGAIN, he keeps making it better. By The Avengers (2012, after Iron Man 2 and before Iron Man 3), he’s wearing the 7th version of his armored suit! Just because it’s your best-to-date doesn’t mean it can’t be better. Make it so.
  • When Wearing Your Super-Suit Or Your Business Identity, Be As Authentically YOU As When You’re Not.
    Tony is sarcastic, punny (not a typo), brilliant, charming, and prone to fits of rage…and so is Iron Man. So am I and so are you, in our own ways…the point is to maintain a consistent identity. People want to hire YOU, partly BECAUSE you’re you. Hero or housewife, vanquishing or vacuuming…same you.
  • The Good Of Others IS The Good Of Yourself
    Remember how I said Tony Stark is cocky? Yeah, he can make COCKY feel shy. As such, he often gets painted with the “you only care about yourself” brush. While that’s not without a certain degree of fairness, what Tony comes to learn – and what is still an emerging business philosophy – is that being sensitive to, looking out for, even PROTECTING the interests of others IS in your own best interest. If nothing else, putting others before yourself means there are plenty of people who have your back when you need them – AND YOU WILL.
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9 Responses to Everything I Know About Business I Learned From Tony Stark

  1. Love this, Evan, especially the part about being consistent and authentic. Funny how Robert Downey Jr always plays that kind of brilliant, mercurial character.
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Hire a Professional Writer (With a Side of Geek)My Profile

  2. Nicole Fende says:

    Love these lessons Evan. Improve relentlessly is beyond a mantra for me, it’s a state of being. I can’t stop myself from looking for ways to improve. The authenticity can be scary, yet also liberating.
    Nicole Fende recently posted..Star Trek Voyager Small Business Lessons On Going it AloneMy Profile

    • evan austin says:

      Totally agreed on the “scary, yet liberating”. Probably we’re scared of the folks who aren’t going to like our true selves, but I think (naively? optimistically?) that for every one of those, there is at LEAST one other who’ll totally dig you.

      Unless you’re really an asshole, in which case you’ve just taught yourself a valuable lesson: “I’m an asshole, and people don’t like that. Time to change.” :)

  3. SandyMc says:

    Funny to think of Iron Man as vulnerable, but that would be his most disarming quality. Have you ever watched Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability? Her research showed that only those who actually feel they have self worth can express vulnerability. So for me the lessons you have described are summed up by needing to find and embrace your own worthiness in business. Like Iron Man, not always easy! Thanks Evan, great read.
    SandyMc recently posted..What’s not possible?My Profile

  4. Carol Lynn says:

    This was fun! And great comparisons, too. I like the one about being authentically you. Not one person when you’re wearing a tie and another when you’re not. It’s weird how easy it is to put on a persona depending on who you’re with or what you’re doing but it’s exhausting and doesn’t win nearly as many friends as just being you!
    Carol Lynn recently posted..From Basement Startup To Thriving Business: Interview With Glen Koedding of Green Sun Energy ServicesMy Profile

  5. I’m right there with you on RDJ and Tony Stark.

    Tony, does three things I Really can identify with as an entrepreneur:
    1) He tinkers relentlessly. Tony Stark goes out, experiments (or blows stuff up), and comes back to try something new, better, different… whatever.

    2) He always bets on himself – Tony Stark never doubts his own technology, even when it fails. He knows he created a quality product and it’ll come back… when it’s ready (usually while in mid-flight in a death spiral).

    3) Saying something is better than saying nothing at all – being quick on your toes is usually a good way to stay top of mind; without his signature one-liners or quick quips, Tony wouldn’t be nearly as fun to watch.

    Great advice in all, Evan!
    Nick Armstrong recently posted..There’s No Such Thing As Free: Pay People What They’re WorthMy Profile

  6. Shaun Hoobler says:

    These lessons are spot on. Also, I myself is a big fan of Tony Stark and RDJ too.
    Shaun Hoobler recently posted..recipesecrets.net discountMy Profile

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