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What You Can Learn From the Marvel Cinematic Universe About Taking Risks

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Growing up, Marvel’s comic books and cartoons were special to me. The characters are — and continue to be — the heroes and protectors of their worlds. They dream big, fight against incredible odds, and always persevere. When I was younger, the journeys and missions of these heroes resonated with me. That fandom has endured as I’ve seen these larger-than-life stories transition to the big screen and other properties.

That shift connects with me on a professional level, along with the aforementioned personal enjoyment. As I’ve grown up and further honed my skills, knowledge, and experience, I have been able to bring some of my biggest professional goals to fruition. Doing so, however, came with some degree of risk.

Risks might seem daunting at first, but smart gambles can improve our lives over time. That element of increased difficulty makes it easier to fail, but it builds your determination as well as your mental and physical resolve.

Bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe to life involved a massive risk on the comic empire’s part, but that decision worked out in Marvel’s favor. When we’re able to envision our end goals, the outcome of taking risks is almost always worth any added discomfort or fear.

“Every risk is worth taking as long as it’s for a good cause, and contributes to a good life.” – Richard Branson

A Case Study on Risk

A decade ago, several Marvel properties weren’t the household names they are now. These characters were largely overlooked in favor of more well-known commodities like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. Since then, however, Marvel has taken movie theaters by storm to release more than 20 films while building a cinematic universe to tell these characters’ stories in a new format.

That success wasn’t guaranteed right out of the gate, though. Taking characters from the pages of comic books and bringing them to life in films, tells a story not only about superheroes but also about what you can accomplish when you take a risk.

Marvel used characters that weren’t necessarily well-known at the time. Thor and Captain America might be household names now, but they weren’t always seen as heroes with box office potential. Marvel took a calculated approach to develop and roll these characters out, and they are now some of the most popular heroes in existence. The studio will continue this trend as lesser-known titles like “The Eternals” and “Shang-Chi” debut in MCU’s next phase.

The MCU, like its comic source material, also acts as a mirror to society by reflecting current events and trends through its characters and storylines. For example, 2019’s female-led “Captain Marvel” delivered a stirring message of female empowerment that will click with a new generation of children and moviegoers.

While risks include uncertainties, Marvel shows that taking risks doesn’t have to be a reckless endeavor. Each risk we take should be informed, carefully considered, inspired, and in service of a larger goal. While not every gamble will pay off, the risks we take will teach us how to get everything right in the future.

What Can We Learn From Marvel?

While your business probably isn’t creating movies and telling superhero stories, the lessons from Marvel’s success over the past decade can inspire companies in any industry.

Here a few pointers to remember:

1. Keep the endgame in mind

Risks work best when you have a larger goal in mind. Marvel didn’t take risks for the sake of taking risks — it had a grand vision for what it wanted to create, and it then plotted those risks accordingly. The team behind the MCU had to start building the big picture somewhere, but it knew the larger goal was to connect dozens of movies and tell stories in a new way. When that kind of big-picture thinking guides your risks, they suddenly don’t feel so intimidating.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” – Muhammad Ali

2. It’s a franchise, not a standalone

Taking risks doesn’t usually produce immediate results. Risks can provide cash benefits and a financial return on investment, but sometimes they deliver “soft benefits” that are harder to measure. For Marvel, this involved appealing to viewers of many different demographics and working to provide each of those groups with representation on the big screen via movies like “Captain Marvel,” “Black Panther,” and the animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Your risks will only pay off if you get into them with patience.

3. Speak up if you want others to assemble

If you can’t advocate for your own risks, don’t expect other people to do it for you. You need to be your most prominent advocate to bring your ideas to life. For example, everyone now recognizes Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Before that role, however, he was known as a talented but troubled actor who was considered a risky proposition for studios. “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau fought to cast the problematic actor, and that gamble eventually paid off in billions of dollars at the box office. You must find ways to show others that your idea has merit because nobody is going to do it for you.

Risks aren’t careless and uneducated leaps. While they aren’t guaranteed to work out, thoughtful risks that are inspired by a larger goal can end up being valuable in more ways than one. Take a page out of Marvel’s playbook by looking at the big picture, figuring out where you want to end up, and taking risks that help bring your vision to life.

Kevin Xu is the CEO of MEBO International, a California- and Beijing-based intellectual property management company specializing in applied health systems. He also leads Skingenix, which specializes in skin organ regeneration and the research and development of botanical drug products. Kevin is co-founder of the Human Heritage Project.

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