I, Superman

If you had the choice of any superpower, which would you pick? Flight or invisibility? The ability to travel back in time and invest in Microsoft? The power to leap tall buildings in a single bound and forgo the morning commute? What would you choose if you were bound by the confines of your organization? Would you choose to be Mr. Speed, able to fight the barbaric forces of Dr. Impossible Deadline? Or Communication Girl, able to soar over a sea of confused messages with a single clear statement?

That was exactly the question Scriberia Academy posed to the participants at a recent workshop in Zurich, Switzerland, for a client interested in exploring the theme of Superheroes. Eighty participants joined us for a day of drawing, comic making, and super hero creation, but we also snuck in a little thoughtful problem-solving and future-casting (in our guise as Professor Sneaky Assignment) as they designed organization-specific superheroes and conquered various quests ranging from customer engagement to expansion in EMEA.

The more of these workshops I experience, the more I witness the power of storytelling in organizations. Storytelling not only satisfies the deep need to use stories to make sense of things, but the stories allow us to see the potential for change. At Scriberia we engage in a specific kind of visual storytelling that helps our clients to make sense of a situation or a project, and in many Scriberia Academy sessions, we spend most of the time helping participants get the story straight before they start drawing. This superhero workshop was no different; we studied the elements of a traditional hero story, designed the specific profiles of our heroes and villains, and visualized an ideal world before we put them to work. By casting our eye into the future and imagining the quest completed and the project successfully implemented, the participants could wind backward and see how they did it; maybe you know that it was hard work and dedication that got you there, or you might realize that it was the actions of Unity Man and his Silo-Busting Ability to Join Forces to Reach a Common Goal that helped you out.

Superheroes are a lot of fun to play with because they provide an almost limitless canvas on which to project our wildest dreams (super strength, flight, x-ray vision). They are fun to draw because they inhabit bodies most of us can only dream of, and their outward appearance often tells us exactly what they stand for (the emblem on their chests, their cool weaponry, their super suits). They also exist in a world of moral absolutes (good vs. evil), which can be very appealing to professionals living in a world filled with ambiguities. But ultimately a super hero’s real power is that they represent the best version of ourselves, whether at work or in the everyday world we inhabit—any story has the potential to become a super story. Superheroes inspire us to become greater than we are. And by following the superhero journey, we can see and realize the potential for our own glorification—solving a tech issue could transform us from being a super girl to SUPERGIRL.

And isn’t that really the point? If we can see it, we can build it. None of us will ever leap a tall building in a single bound, change the course of a mighty river or bend steel in our bare hands. Seldom is any one person put in a position to save the world or to alter the destiny of humanity. But we can always return that lost wallet, refuse to buy counterfeit goods, or stand our ground when it’s easier to walk away.  We each have the potential to be incorruptible, and that is what makes any mere human a hero.