Everything I know about business I learned from Buffy


Maybe not everything, but…let’s face it, Buffy was a pretty instrumental force in my teenagerdom (and is something I still love with a fierceness today). It’s my “security blanket” show that I go back to again and again…not just for the witty repartee (“I mock you with my monkey pants”) but there’s all kinds of smartness within…including some business lessons.

Prophecies are tricky creatures.

You tried. It was noble of you. You heard the prophecy that I was about to break free and you came to stop me. But prophecies are tricky creatures. They don’t tell you everything. You’re the one that sets me free. If you hadn’t come, I couldn’t go. Think about that.

At the end of season one, it’s revealed that there’s a prophecy that says that Buffy will face the Master (a powerful vampire) to keep him from breaking free, and she’ll die. At first, she wants to avoid her fate (because o hai, she’s sixteen), and then decides to face up to it…only for the Master to tell her that if she hadn’t gone to fight him, he wouldn’t have been able to break free. Oops.

Lots of potential lessons to be learned from that scenario, but the one I want to highlight is that when it comes to our business, our prophecies can be self-fulfilling, whether we realize that or not. If you’re convinced you’re going to fail, it’s really easy to not put in 100% effort, after which – shock! – you fail, and you get to say “I told you so” to yourself. Luckily, the flip side can go for being convinced of your success – if you know that eventually you’ll be successful, you are thatmuch more likely to stick it out until you actually are successful.

There’s no such thing as controlled circumstances.

Wesley: I have, in fact, faced two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.
Giles: No danger of finding those here.
Wesley: Vampires?
Giles: Controlled circumstances.

The first…I don’t even know how long…I was in business, I kept trying to do things the way they “should” be done. I want to have a well-defined USP that fit the formula everyone touted and I wanted the popular blog theme and I wanted to base my services off of what had worked for other people. I wanted a cute, tidy catchphrase for my business and I wanted successful, easy launches, and blah blah blah.

I was endlessly frustrated that I didn’t have everything down pat already, and it took me forever – forever! I still have to remind myself! – to realize that 99% of my fellow biz-peeps don’t have it all down either. (And the longer I’m in business the more I have a sneaking suspicion that the other 1% are just good enough bullshitters to fool themselves & everyone else.) I recently listened to an interview with Charlie Gilkey and one of the things he emphasized is how long it took him to have any kind of a semi-streamlined description of his business & what he does, and how he still feels like that’s something he has to continually work on.

There’s something to be said for constant improvement, and there’s something to be said for trying something that has a high success rate for other people, but in business as in vampire slaying, there’s no such thing as controlled circumstances – a should-have-been-successful launch can fail, a slapped-it-together-in-10-minutes post can go viral, and something that didn’t work for you a year or two years ago might be just the thing you need to try right now.

You need a support system.

A Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn’t in the brochure.

Over and over again throughout the series, it’s pointed out that the only thing that keeps Buffy the usual Slayer fate (a young and brutal death) is her support team of family and friends, affectionately referred to as the Scooby Gang. Without them, she’d have died unpleasantly in season one, despite her initial reluctance to having any kind of backup.

This is a common observance for business and life success, too – we know that we’re the sum of the five people that we spend the most time with, and we know that our friends can bring us up or drag us down, and we know that mastermind groups are a good idea, and all that jazz, but do you actually put it into practice? Do you know who your Scooby Gang is?

Being a leader isn’t easy.

Xander: You’re our leader, Buffy, as in “follow the”.
Buffy: Well, from now on, I’m your leader as in “do what I say”.

Multiple times throughout the series, Buffy has to balance being the leader (and in many senses, a general of sorts) with being a friend. It’s not always easy and it causes rifts more than once. We can learn from some of her missteps (like, yanno, “do what I say and don’t ask questions” doesn’t generally go anywhere good), but seeing that dynamic play out also points out how difficult it can be to balance a leadership role and a friendship role.

You can be friends with your assistant and the people on your team and your business partner, but everyone involved needs to know that there are boundaries and differences between the “friendship you” and the “leader/manager you”. You need to be able to give directives and honest feedback without it ruining your friendships. Not an easy skill to learn but definitely worth the un-burned bridges.

That’s what I’ve got for Buffy-based business lessons (say that three times fast) – think I missed anything? 

This post is part of the awesome Word Carnival. Read more posts on this month’s theme: Close (Biz) Encounters of the Sci-Fi Kind.

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