8 Business Lessons Learned From “Lord Of The Rings”
Yes, we’re about to talk about hobbits, dwarves, mythical creatures, wizards, epic battles, and talking trees in a post about business practices. (And, yes, we know it’s “Star Wars” season. But we happen to have just rewatched LOTR.) Just go with it.
At about the fifth or sixth time through the “Lord of The Rings” trilogy, some things become very clear. First, you are probably a serious geek. Second, you have way too much time on your hands. Third, this is not just a story about a great journey and an impossible triumph. This is a story about humanity and challenge and struggle and its themes can be applied to virtually any aspect of life—business, politics, relationships—to provide thought-provoking, insightful, life-changing lessons. Here are a few.
The hobbits in LOTR stood just a bit over three feet tall. They were soft, shoeless, used to regular meals and soft beds. And they were tasked with saving the world.
No one would have blamed them for staying home. (Except maybe those of us who’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of their story.) But despite the overwhelming odds, they gathered their courage and took on a challenge beyond their wildest imagining.
Lesson: The bigger the problem, the bigger the reward when it’s solved. If it’s worth doing, don’t let the scope keep you from trying. Just take it one step at a time and keep your eyes open for Nazgul.
Never, Ever Give Up
LOTR is the story of an epic struggle to reach an impossible goal. It is a quest seemingly doomed from the start. Fail, and the kingdom of Middle Earth is lost. Go forward and face endless peril and almost certain death. What kept them going? The knowledge that all would be lost otherwise, and, of course, the promise of returning to the shire in all its verdant glory.
If you’re seeking your own green fields, you could take a lesson from the hobbits. The quest for success, more leads, better customer engagement, broader exposure, greater market share may not be quite as consequential or as dangerous an outing as theirs, but those things certainly require a great amount of fortitude, diligence and ingenuity. If you want the reward, you have to keep pushing forward, through every obstacle, past every peak. You can never, ever give up.
Actions Not Words
When the ancient Ents are called upon to enter the battle to save Middle Earth, they spend an entire day just discussing whether or not a discussion is warranted. Meanwhile, Saruman is ravaging the forest and destroying their kin.
The lesson here? Planning and strategizing are important, but there is a point of diminishing return. Don’t spend time talking something to death. Instead, make your plan and get to work. Spend your time implementing and executing instead of talking. You may make some mistakes, but you’ll learn from them and refine your plan in the process.
No matter how smart, diligent and effective you are, there are times you need some help. Getting input from others on your team, or even outside your team can broaden your perspective, reveal things you might have missed, bring fresh ideas and improve your outcome.
King Theoden would have been wise to bring in a fresh perspective and some additional muscle when he was facing the Oruk-Hai at Helms Deep. But instead of calling on Gondor for aid, he let his pride get in the way and nearly lost his kingdom.
When you’re mounting a big project, don’t head into battle alone. Call in aid, rally your troops, and charge ahead.
Go For Greatness
One of the best scenes in the trilogy comes toward the end of “The Return of The King” during the epic battle to save Rohan. Legolas scales the body of the towering mythic oliphaunt as it thunders through the battlefield. Picking off enemy fighters as he goes, Legolas nimbly makes his way to the top, slays the massive beast with his arrow, and does a graceful grind down the length of the creature’s giant tusk before landing on the ground before Gimley to announce the number of his kill. Piece of cake.
What have we learned? If you’re going to get in the game, go big. Make your play epic. Scale great heights. Fire on all cylinders. And enjoy the ride while you’re at it.
Don’t Listen To The NaysayersEven Especially the ones in your own head. The little voice that whispers, “It can’t be done.” The people who offer nothing but negativity. These are not your friends.
Grima Wormtongue sat at Theoden’s side whispering poisonous advice into his ear, slowly undermining Theoden’s success and sanity.
When you’re working to innovate, expand or engage in new ways, there will always be those who push back. Sometimes your biggest detractor is in your own mind. Stay focused on the goal. Keep looking for ways to improve. Keep learning and keep your vision clear.
Make the hard choices
After escaping death at every turn and overcoming ridiculous odds, Frodo and Sam reach their goal. They’ve made their way deep inside Mordor and are standing at the precipice. Frodo need only drop the ring into the molten lava and their struggle will be at an end. And yet, the ring has such hold on him, he can’t bear to let it go. He can no longer see the goal, only the object in front of him.
Sometimes the choices are hard. So hard that we avoid making them. But inevitably, the choice will get made. If not by you, then for you. And that’s never good. If you want the best outcome, you’ve got to stay focused on the goal, put emotion aside, and make the tough choices. You’ve got to let go of the ring.
Open your mind to inspiration. The fact that you’ve made it this far through an article drawing a metaphoric parallel between the business world and a wildly fantastical narrative of elves and dragons and wizards, shows you’ve got the right mindset. Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places and bring you the most surprising insights. Be open. Be curious. Be inspired. You’ll be better for it.