Avengers And Mullins' Framework For Startups
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This is the story of a team coming together as a startup, setting up the right parameters and solving the world’s biggest problem, struggle for existence. The lessons from the Avengers episode are compelling enough for startup founders to sit up and take notice.
S.H.I.E.L.D. – a spy agency - founded after World War II by Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and Colonel Chester Phillips for preventive protection from distasters. “Sometimes to protect one man against himself, other times to protect the planet against an alien invasion from another universe” says Nick Fury, Director at S.H.I.E.L.D.
The acronym has changed throughout the years and these days, S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division,” but it previously also stood for “Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate” and, originally, “Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division.”
S.H.I.E.L.D. created a group of fighters with supernatural powers and this group is called the Avengers. Whenever situations is beyond control of S.H.I.E.L.D. then Avengers help them out with their “beyond human” abilities.
Here is the Problem Statement, and a huge one too: The story starts with, the Asgardian Loki’s encounter with the leader of an extraterrestrial race known as the Chitauri. In exchange for retrieving the Tesseract, a powerful energy source of unknown potential located on planet Earth, he promises Loki an army with which he can subjugate our beloved planet.
Nick Fury, director of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D., and his lieutenant Agent Maria Hill arrive at a remote research facility during an evacuation, where physicist Dr. Erik Selvig is leading a research team experimenting on the Tesseract.
Agent Phil Coulson –Fury’s leading team member - explains that the object has begun radiating an unusual form of energy. The Tesseract suddenly activates and opens a wormhole, allowing Loki to reach Earth. Loki takes the Tesseract and uses his scepter to enslave Selvig and a couple of agents, including Clint Barton - Hawkeye, to aid him in his getaway.
Further in the story Nick Fury along with the Avengers fight against Loki and overpower him and send him back to his world. Following is the extract and understanding of how Avengers came together on the lines of the Mullins’ Seven Domains Framework.
Avengers and the Mullins’ Seven Domains Framework
1. Market Domain/Macro Level: Market Attractiveness
In response to the attack, Fury reactivates the "Avengers Initiative". Agent Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, is sent to Kolkata to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner - the Hulk - to trace the Tesseract through its gamma radiation emissions. Coulson visits Tony Stark to have him review Selvig's research, and Fury approaches Steve Rogers - Captain America - with an assignment to retrieve the Tesseract.
Initially, no one was ready to work for this mission. But Fury and his team were successful in convincing them by recollecting their past results. Fury and his team were very clear about the need and the target hence they could get the buy in from all for the mission to save world from alien attack.
As a startup before you start working on your idea make sure that you understand the problem, the need of the market and also understand if you can meet that need. Do your homework to understand the customers, efforts, and resources needed by doing analysis of historic data and analyzing the external situation.
Market Domain/Micro Level: Sector Market Benefits and Attractiveness
Avengers did research about Loki and Tesseract before attacking him. They kept track of the activities and nabbed him while he attacked common people, and was vulnerable. On one side Loki was using his power to subjugate people on Earth whereas the Avengers were using their power to save people and bring peace on Earth.
Before you start make sure that you understand the specific target market, analyze what competitors are doing and then provide a better solution to the customers through your product or service. Know your customer so well that it takes less time for them to adopt to your product or service.
Industry Domain/Macro Level: Industry Attractiveness
Loki attacks people and asks them to kneel down in front of him. He says “You are made to be ruled”. Suddenly an old man gets up and replies “Not to the men like you”. As Loki was about to hit the old man, Captain America jumps in front of him and overpowers him. Loki did not understand that to use super natural powers he needed to follow some rules and to become popular needed to win the hearts of people by good deeds and not by force. Becoming popular was quite attractive for Loki but the means used were destructive and without awareness. He completely ignored his competitors’ strengths.
Know everything about the industry you want to be in. Know the trends in the industry. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of competitors. Understand the negotiation power of buyers and sellers well. Choose your means and ways wisely. Study your potential competitors too for longterm strategy.
4. Industry Domain/Micro Level: Sustainable Advantage
When Loki was arrested and kept in cage then he was rescued by his team. While escaping Loki kills Coulson. During their fight Coulson tells him “You are goanna loose. It’s in your nature. You lack conviction”
As a startup knows what resources do you possess which your competitor doesn’t. And keep anticipating potential competitive strengths rather than creating the competitive strategies on the existing strengths of the enemy. As you evolve as a startup, the competition is also doing the same – its important that your speed is more than competitors’’
Fury maintains the right combination of the Avengers team where each team members has unique skills – Iron Man with an electromechanical suit of armor of his own invention, Captain America with his enhanced peak of human physicality, Hulk - A genius scientist who transforms into a monster when enraged, Thor with his hammer and power of lightning, Hawkeye with his unique archery skills and last but not the least Black Widow with her Spy skills. This makes it a different and unique team which can’t be defeated easily.
Define your Unique Selling Proposition. Know yourself well – strengths and weaknesses. Build upon strengths. A balanced team is one which understands your product life cycle, organization development cohesiveness, approaching the right investments resources, forward research, positive image building and creating a strong man-machine user interface.
During one scene where Thor was trying to stop Hulk from doing destruction, Hulk tries to pick up hammer of Thor but he fails to do so. It’s Thor’s property and cannot be used by anyone else.
As a start-up do you have Intellectual Property Rights – Patents, Copy Rights, and Trademarks – which no one else can use? Keep it in your strategy, protect them well and draw upon them for constructive impact and influence.
5. Team Domain: Connectedness Up, Down and across the Value Chain
Loki attacked and ran away with Tesseract. Fury knew who can turn around this situation and it was the Avengers team. Fury was so well connected with each Avenger team member that he knew how to convince them to work on this mission. The Avengers team was well connected with Fury’s team of scientists, soldiers and the public that all of them follow the orders and directions given by the Avengers.
They were also well connected to Loki’s maneuvers and ways of operations, and knew his strengths and weaknesses which can be observed in a scene where Black Widow takes out necessary information from Loki, making him weak through her communication.
Hunt for the suppliers and investors who know you well, and are already potentially networked with you– who can supply you with the resources needed to run your venture. Identify the people early on, who in your social personal network can be your potential customers? Do you know any of your competitors personally? If so, how could this relationship help or hinder your venture? And could these people be partners if you thought about them differently?
Be well connected with your team, customers, suppliers and competitors so that you can make the optimum utilization their skills and expertise by guiding them at the right time. Be an action leader where everybody feels like following your orders and instructions.
6.Team Domain: Mission, Aspirations, Propensity for RiskWhen
Avengers team comes together they discuss about the mission of S.H.I.E.L.D. - to harness the Tesseract to develop weapons as a deterrent against hostile extraterrestrials. But the team members start arguing about the action plan and their personal intentions of working on the mission while they are in arguments suddenly Barton and Loki's other possessed agents attack the Helicarrier, disabling its engines in flight. This makes Avengers team members immediately align to the mission and fight against the enemy.
Your team may also go through such argumentative mode about mission but once each one of you align to the organization’s mission nothing can stop you from making the mission successful. Your personal and professional aspirations need be aligned and explicitly communicated time to time.
During last scene when Avengers team was overwhelmed as wave after wave of Chitauri descend upon Earth, they anticipated the risk and immediately prepared the strategy to fight against them. Moreover when Black Widow needed to reach the wormhole center she asks Captain America to help him jump over the spaceship. Captain America says “Are you sure about this?” Black Widow replies “Yeah, This is gonna be fun“.
The risk taking propensities of startups need to be objectively obtained, analyzed and assumed to be a part of the game. Defining the symptomatic behaviors during the risk makes it more calculated than abstract. Avengers journey suggests that that risk-taking propensity may not be a distinguishing characteristic of entrepreneurs however the collective impact of their behaviors during risky situations defines the startup to stand out and progress.
7. Team Domain: Ability to Execute on Critical Success Factors
In any difficult situation where saving people becomes important, Avengers always make sure that they unite and strategize to win over. That’s the ability they have to execute as a team under any critical situation. They knew that their teamwork and ability to strategize is their critical success factor to win the battles. In this situation when Banner needed to get into Hulk mode Captain America says “You need to get angry” and Banner replies “I am always angry”. Banner knows how to execute on Anger!
Have you identified your organization’s Critical Success Factors (CSF)? Keep your strategy ready to execute on your CSFs. Keep your decision making model ready where you will know which decisions will produce favorable results and which will make the situation worse. This needs a strong team with end to end trust in one another.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been a great support for providing necessary resources to the Avengers. The coordination between the two entities has always been an advantage to the Avengers and vice a versa.
As a startup, the founders must ensure they have full visibility of which decisions or activities can harm the business significantly(Iron Man is rash and brash at times), even when everything else is potentially going in the right direction?
The second critical success factor is to decide on which decisions or activities can deliver disproportionately high benefits, even if other things are going poorly? These are strokes of geniuses, which take competitors by surprise.
Then look at the knowledge and skills of the team that you've put together. How certain are you that you and your team can deliver successfully on these CSFs? If you see a gap in skills or abilities, whom can you bring on board to fill this gap?