5 Reasons Leaders Should Follow the Example of Tyler Durden From 'Fight Club'
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don't you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can't think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you're supposed to read? Do you think everything you're supposed to think? Buy what you're told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you're alive. If you don't claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned. -- Tyler (from the Fight Club DVD)
There is a serious void in charismatic, passionate, badass leaders in the startup scene (go ahead, argue the point or provide some examples in the comments section below). I’m talking about people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, fight for what they believe in and lead from the trenches (as Gene Hammett likes to say).
When Fight Club came out in 1999, I was 16 years old. All of my friends could quote every single scene. Every dude on the planet wanted to be Tyler Durden. My buddies and I even started a boxing club in my garage, and Fight Club became more than a movie. It literally and physically transcended our realities and manifested itself into our daily lives. Talk about making an impact.
Sixteen years later, the quotes still remain. How many times have you seen that CrossFit meme with Tyler Durden and the Fight Club crew that reads, “First Rule of CrossFit, Always Talk About CrossFit”?
Obviously, take my writing with a grain of salt, as I’m going to be discussing the nth degree of what made Tyler Durden so effective as a leader. I’m not saying let’s all break laws and become anarchists like Tyler Durden either (I feel like I need to reinforce this point in today’s day and age).
However, imagine if as startup entrepreneurs we could lead so effectively, that we could create an almost cult-like following as Tyler Durden did in Fight Club, enroll people in our big visions, lead by example and accomplish improbable feats by getting everyone fired up about our missions. Imagine the impact we could have, imagine the good we could accomplish, imagine the worlds we could create.
What would it take to lead so effectively? Let’s break down some ideas.
1. Fight for your crazy huge vision.
"In the world I see -- you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway."
Granted, Tyler Durden’s vision was bat-poop crazy, but he fought for what he believed in. He saw the world as it was and didn’t like it. He had different plans, and went to extreme degrees to accomplish his new-world vision.
Elon Musk immediately comes to mind as I write this. Nobody can argue that Musk doesn’t have gigantic vision. Already, he’s changed the way we as society make online purchases, he’s changed the way we use transportation, he’s disrupted the entire space exploration space and a million other things. When building his different companies, he’s spoken about couch surfing and taking showers at the YMCA.
Musk is arguable the most impactful visionary of our time who has created multiple billion-dollar companies that have altered history. He stands up for and fights for his big visions.
Fight Club started in the parking lot of a bar, worked its way to a basement and eventually became a world-wide movement. To be an impactful, forward-thinking visionaries, we must have a huge vision, and be willing to fight for it.
2. Lead by example.
What was the eighth and final rule? “If this is your first time at Fight Club, you have to fight.”
Rarely did we see a fight scene where Tyler wasn’t fighting. I believe too many leaders sit back and delegate when they need to be pushing the team forward to extreme boundaries, passed their perceived limits. The most effective leaders are the ones that have rose through the ranks themselves, that put in the work, that aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and show their teams what it takes to accomplish that huge vision.
3. Take unmitigated risks.
"Hitting bottom isn't a weekend retreat. It's not a goddamn seminar. Stop trying to control everything and just let go! Let go!"
Tyler Durden did what he wanted. He didn’t listen to anyone, not even his own feeble, weak alter ego (played by Edward Norton).
This is obviously an arguable point, but I say take the full risk. We’re all so used to “playing it safe,” “hedging our bets” and “covering our asses.” You know what that does? It stifles our passion.
If I’m mitigating all of my risk, all of the time, I’m going to be lukewarm about everything I do. I’ll lose my passion. If I’m all in, I’m all in.
You know that feeling you get when you feel like you can walk on water, like you understand everything about everything? It’s that feeling of being “limitless.” I guarantee that by taking more unmitigated risk you’re going to feel more alive than ever before. You’ll have less fear, more clarity and more passion about the things you do because they will matter more to you.
4. Progress, not perfection.
"F**k off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns, I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let's evolve. Let the chips fall where they may."
Everything can’t be perfect all of the time. Startups are volatile. “Perfect timing” is a myth. There’s no such thing, there’s just “timing,” for better or worse. I live by the rule of progress, not perfection.
Jason Fried talks about this in his book ReWork. In the startup world, one day equals one week in the normal people world. Everything moves so quickly with startups. That’s why I live by progress, not perfection. If we’re always trying to perfect, we’ll get slowed down and lose the competitive advantage of being agile. Evolution is about progression, not perfection.
5. Be the person you want to be.
"People do it everyday, they talk to themselves. They see themselves as they'd like to be. They don't have the courage you have, to just run with it."
Tyler Durden was a figment of an imagination. A vision that Edward Norton’s character had of himself.
Too many of us are afraid to be who we truly are. We care too much about what people think, or the labels society will give us. The irony in this situation is we never learned what Edward Norton’s character’s name was, we only knew the name he gave the alter ego he created for himself. That person became his reality.
We all have a vision of what we want to be in our minds. In Fight Club, the Narrator (Edward Norton), let that vision become his reality.
Just as Marianne Williamson has stated, I believe this to be true:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world."
We all have the opportunity to claim our greatness. We all can fight for our crazy huge visions, lead by example, take unmitigated risk, focus on progress not perfection and be the people we want to be, all we have to do is watch Fight Club a few more times. Let’s just pray we’re not all maniacal, homicidal, suicidal, anarchist-lunatics, or I’ll regret writing this column.