Katniss Everdeen is in business—the business of staying alive. This is not an easy gig. You thought retaining clients or finding new customers was difficult, but at least it’s just your livelihood on the line instead of your life.
Yet, being a small business owner can feel like a life or death situation at times. When sales are slow and clients are sparse, it can feel like you’ve been thrown in with the wolves with a flimsy marketing book as your only weapon for defense. And who knows better about fighting your way back out of these types of sticky situations than our latest post-apocalyptic hero Katniss?
No matter how you slice it, the Girl on Fire has quite a few lesson’s she can teach us about staying alive in business when the going gets tough.
Here are 7 killer business lessons you can sink your teeth into from the Hunger Games…
Hunger Games Lesson #1: Team up with your competitors
In the dog-eat-dog arena that Katniss gets flung into, it would be understandable for her to go it alone. It would make perfect sense for her to have an every-woman-for-herself attitude and kill all her competitors on sight. Who can trust the competition when they’re sole intention is to see you lying dead in the water anyway?
As a business owner, it’s tempting to think that for you to succeed, that your competition has to fail. Yet, that’s not how it works. What did Katniss do to stay alive? She teamed up with her competition. She turned her enemies into allies and worked together with the other “tributes” in an effort to keep herself alive.
The most successful business owners work together to stay alive. A great example of this is when Bill Gates of Microsoft invested $150 million in his competition—Steve Jobs—to rebuild the Apple brand. Gates and Jobs were seen as “frenemies” at best, but instead of watching his competition fade away, Gates teamed up with him. Today, they are both thriving companies. Who can you team up with to skyrocket your success?
Hunger Games Lesson #2: Constantly be cultivating useful skills
When Katniss first learned how to hunt with a bow and arrow, she didn’t foresee that this skill would keep her alive in the Hunger Games arena years later. Instead, she was merely cultivating skills that helped her better her life in the moment. Yet, fast-forward in time and these everyday skills ended up being the difference between life and death for her.
As a business owner, if you wait to learn new skills until the time you need them, it’s too late. You need to be constantly cultivating useful skills on a daily basis. Seek out opportunities to learn new things and make an effort to broaden your knowledge and capabilities. Don’t take for granted any of your skills, no matter how insignificant they might seem in the moment. No skill is too minor that it can’t pay off in a major way down the road.
Hunger Games Lesson #3: Get a mentor
Chances are slim that Katniss would have made it out of the first movie alive if she didn’t have a mentor. Despite the fact that her mentor was a raging alcoholic (a quality that I wouldn’t recommend for a good mentor), the lessons and teachings that he imparted to her were invaluable. While she was in the middle of fighting for survival, he was able to see the entire situation from an outside perspective, which allowed him to give her the precise advice she needed to survive the Game.
Don’t try to go it alone. As a business owner, you are too close to your business to always see what needs to be done to ensure long-term success. Getting an outside, impartial perspective about your business from a qualified mentor—someone who’s been in business for a while—is extremely beneficial. Mentors can help fast-track your business by saving you from mistakes and providing useful insight based on past experiences.
Hunger Games Lesson #4: Know your “why”
As a business owner, you always have to know your “why” in order to make it through tough times. To ultimately succeed, you have to have a distinct purpose relentlessly pulling you forward and keeping you motivated. Without a purpose, chances are you will quit before you reach the light at the end of the tunnel.
Katniss’s “why” wasn’t just staying alive, it was keeping her loved-ones safe. That’s her sole motivator from the get-go. She originally volunteered for the Games to save her sister. She put her life on the line to help Peeta and Gale. She complied with the President’s wishes to protect her family. Without a clear purpose, she wouldn’t have made it very far.
Everyone’s “why” is going to be different, but it’s critical that you define yours. Why are you running your business? Why do you want to succeed? The answers to these questions are going to take you the distance when the going gets tough.
Hunger Games Lesson #5: Learn as you go
Successful business owners don’t have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines. As an entrepreneur, you have to jump in and start playing the game now if you want to end up victorious. And because you can’t keep delaying until you “know enough”, you have to learn as you go every step of the way.
For Katniss, each time she is thrown into the arena, she has no clue what to expect or what to do. The moment the game begins, she has two options: freeze up or figure it out. No amount of time spent strategizing or training in advance is going to help her negotiate all the curve balls thrown at her. She learns everything step-by-step as she goes along, and sometimes being naïve is one of her biggest assets because she’s able to make decisions without second-guessing herself.
One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs make is getting stuck in various planning phases of their businesses. If you’re trying to learn everything you need to know before you start taking action, you’re wasting valuable time. Take the plunge, be willing to make mistakes and learn as you go.
Hunger Games Lesson #6: Win today
Katniss Everdeen’s ability to live in the moment is one of the major keys to her survival. She doesn’t get caught up in worrying about the future—her primary goal in the arena is to stay alive today. In the end, when she focuses on the doing the best she can to survive each and every day, then the future will take care of itself.
In your business, focus on winning today. Don’t spend time worrying what slings and arrows the future might bring. You can’t reach your long-term goals unless you successful execute your series of short-term goals starting now. When you consistently focus on winning today—doing your best to accomplish what needs to be done in the next 24 hours—then the future will take care of itself.
Hunger Games Lesson #7: Play your game
The people of Panem love Katniss because she’s the heroic rebel that doesn’t play by anyone else’s rules. Even though she can’t escape her fate to participate in the Hunger Games, she intentionally ignores the Game’s guidelines (e.g. honoring dead tributes and snubbing the “one winner” rule) while all the other tributes stick to the rulebook. In turn, she beats the system, becomes a celebrity of sorts and most importantly, manages to stay alive.
In business, you have to play your own game and make your own rules. If you follow the safe, worn path that everyone else has traveled down, there’s little hope that your business will stand out from the crowd and become a giant success. If there’s something unique about yourself or your business, don’t hide it—highlight it. To play your own game—take a stand, choose a side, pave your own trail and for God sake, don’t settle for mediocrity.
If you want to survive in the business arena, follow Katniss’s lead. Despite being a teenager and a fictional character (we won’t hold those things against her), she really knows something about working hard, not giving up, and following her heart even when the going gets tough.