Are You Building Asgard?

If you are a fan of comic book movies and you haven’t seen Thor Ragnarok yet… I really don’t know what’s wrong with you. In Norse mythology, Ragnarok, or the Doom of the Gods, represents the end of the mythical cycle and of the world as we know it. It’s an Armageddon of sorts.

Funnily enough, as in many movies or books, the lessons and themes that define their story lines can be extremely relevant to our businesses.

The world of technology is especially prone to cycles and innovations that render the last age obsolete. When these changes occur, they can be disastrous to companies that are highly invested in the dying paradigm. On the flip side, they create opportunities for other companies to rise and seize the new opportunities presented. These companies are often times newcomers, but in other cases, existing businesses are able to adapt and change to meet the new demands, extending their life and avoiding business Armageddon. How do they do this?

Ragnarok may give some valuable insight, and I’ll try to share it without spoiling the movie for those of you who haven’t seen it.

In Ragnarok, Thor’s father Odin dies, which unleashes his sister Hela, the Goddess of Death. Thor quickly finds himself in a totally new position, one of weakness. His prized hammer Mjolnir, the one only he can wield, is smashed into an oblivion and he finds himself almost powerless.

This is not unlike what happens during a paradigm shift in technology. A new player or technology emerges, rendering yours inferior. Your tools of the trade are useless in this new battlefield and your once precious Mjolnir is now in ruins.

So when this happens, what is an honest company to do? 

First of all, remember who you are. After losing his hammer, Thor continually dwells on the fact that his favorite weapon is no longer at his disposal. Finally the ghost of his father has to ask him one simple question.

“Are your the God of Hammers?”

Obviously he is not. Mjolnir was his weapon of choice, but it is at the end of the day, just a tool. Thor’s greater power lies elsewhere.

Businesses are the same. The technology of today is just the tool. But, as with any tool, when you first started your business you had to learn how to use it. The success of the business was never in that technology.

Businesses succeed because they have deeper core competencies. They know how to execute consistently, they are great at marketing, they manage cash well or they have amazing supply chains. When technology changes, businesses have to turn to these competencies and align them with the new paradigm to find their place in the evolving world. The business has to remember it is not the God of Hammers. It’s much more.

The other thing that businesses have to remember is that their competencies are only as strong as their people. Once you know what your core competency is, you must make sure that you are building a team that reinforces and enhances that.

The team is paramount, as they are the ones that will have to initiate and complete the pivot when the world changes. Many companies hire in ways to sustain their current business. They look at employees as being part of a machine, where one employee is as good as another, because the business is running at scale and things are good. Unfortunately, when the business starts to shift, these employees may not be the right ones. Attracting good talent in panic mode once the market shifts is not exactly easy. In fact, even if you can attract the talent late in the game, many times it is too late for them to make and impact in the end result.

Hence I ask the question in the title of this blog.

Are you building Asgard?

One of the poignant themes in Ragnarok is that Thor’s planet, Asgard, is not a place. It’s a people that can exist anywhere. Your business is the same. Take Netflix as an example. Netflix wasn’t a DVD by mail company. They aren’t an online movie service. They aren’t even a studio. They are a group of people with the core competency of delivering entertainment content to people interested in viewing it.

What value do you deliver to your customers? What core competencies have allowed you to do that over time despite shifts from analog to digital and wired to wireless? What type of people have been instrumental in making it a reality? And most importantly, what have you done to retain that talent and to attract more people like them when building your team?

Have you been building Asgard? And perhaps more importantly, if not, when will you start? The future of your business may just depend on it.