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4 Culture Lessons We Can Learn From Comic Con

This weekend I’ll be attending the Salt Lake Comic Con, and I already know it’s going to be tremendous. Why? Well, I’ve attended a few of these events before, but also because if there’s ever been a thriving and engaging culture, it’s at comic con. Workplace cultures could do a lot worse than to learn from these hotbeds of pop culture. Here are four ways that comic con can teach us how to create thriving workplaces:

1. It’s Participative

The first time I attended a comic con, I wondered where on earth the conference organizers found all of these amazing actors with their incredible costumes. Turns out, they were just attendees, just like you or me. Many attendees participate in what’s known as cosplay, dressing up as their favorite pop culture icon. And let me tell you, some of these costumes are nothing short of astonishing! Comic con is a highly participative event, one that allows people to be as much part of the show as they are attendees.

How This Applies to the Workplace

We are social creatures that need a sense of purpose and belonging. Participating in a company’s mission and purpose in a meaningful way brings out a whole new level of engagement and investment.

2. It Showcases Competence

I mentioned the incredible level of thought and skill that goes into these costumes. Some have spent hundreds of hours on their costumes—costumes that could put a Hollywood costume designer to shame. (Hollywood costumes don’t often have to hold up to close scrutiny, not like a cosplay getup.)

How This Applies to the Workplace

We know from Self-Determination Theory that people are motivated to perform at their best when they are given the opportunity to showcase their competence. When employees are allowed to do what they do well, they tend to push themselves to excel intrinsically—no external reward needed, outside that of a recognition of their skills.

3. It Showcases Personal Interests and Passions

Comic con goers are really into comic books and pop culture. Really into it. They debate who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman (Batman, by the way), who the best Doctor Who is to date (Peter Capaldi has serious promise), and how best to survive a zombie apocalypse (Max Brooks seems to like the lobotomizer, but it looks heavy to me). The things is, none of this really matters—I mean—at all! But such is the case with many of our passions: We love them not because they make sense but because they stir our interests.

How This Applies to the Workplace

Extrinsic motivators—money, position, compensation packages, or the possibility of losing these things—pale in comparison to the power of  intrinsic motivators—the drive to do something simply for its own sake. Connect your employees passions with their work and you’ll be astonished at the results.

4. There Are No Outgroups

Take it from me: There is no comic con attendee stereo-type. In this mosh pit of pop culture you’ll find social outcasts alongside business entrepreneurs. High school GEDs having animated and insightful discussions with PhDs. Citizens talking with city leaders and politicians. Wannabe writers and artists right there with established professionals in the industry. They’re all there—there to have a great time and revel in their shared interests. As a result, most everyone feels strangely at home. People are embracing of one another, happy to celebrate differences just as quickly as commonalities.

How This Applies to the Workplace

Organizational culture is about establishing a collection of shared beliefs and behavioral norms that result in our day-to-day work environment. This is good, healthy, and appropriate. However, a culture can start to become counterproductive when it is so insular that it pushes out those that don’t perfectly reflect its tenets. Some level of conformity is important, but too much produces groupthink, stifles innovation, and creates silos that negatively impact relationships and productivity.

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