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What Indiana Jones Can Teach Us About Business

About Sterling Hawkins

Sterling Hawkins is out to break the status quo to create what’s acWhat Indiana Jones Teaches Us About Businesstually possible for humanity in our time. He has spent his career igniting new views and inspiring people to act on them. He is an internationally-recognized thought leader and top-rated keynote speaker on innovation, transformational leadership and exponential growth. His keynotes share meaningful strategies to drive change – delivered with the inspiration to leave attendees in action.


Indiana Jones is held at gunpoint. Having survived a Nazi ambush and evaded the traps of the temple, he stands in the chamber that holds the Holy Grail, hidden among dozens of false grails. A sip from the Holy Grail grants eternal life; a sip from the false grail will end the life of the drinker. In control are the Nazis, who select an incredible golden chalice studded with rubies and emeralds that’s more beautiful than they ever could have imagined… But after a sip it proves false, instantly turning the antagonist to dust. Indy chooses a simple wooden cup that doesn’t look very special at all… it is in fact the true Holy Grail. Of course, this is the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I was thinking about this in the context of business today. A world where most of us scramble to have the “right” message on social media, want to make things look a certain way on Wall Street and even sometimes hire and fire based on the optics. The same optics that make the false grail so beautiful. Indiana Jones gives us an incredibly valuable lesson in this day and age especially: the substance of something, what it really is, what it stands for and what is true, is ultimately infinitely more important than what it looks like. Optics may present a short term gain but will always lose in the long run and at a macro level.

Through some research I’ve been doing I just got off the phone Steve Sasson, the inventor of the digital camera (really) when he was at Kodak. If we’re going old school with Indiana Jones I figure why not bring Kodak in as well. In the early 70s when Steve began his work, digital wasn’t really understood, by consumers or business. As he pieced parts together in the Kodak lab he started to work towards something that had never been done before, a truly digital camera. As he came up with a workable prototype and started sharing it with Kodak executives over the coming years something interesting happened. There was concern for how consumers might receive something digital in a print photography world. There was concern for how their professional customers might be turned off by something so disruptive. There was concern for the level of quality not matching what was available in the print world. There was a noticeable lack of acknowledgement for the substance of what Steve was working on. We all know that Kodak ultimately didn’t end up bringing a digital camera to market until is was too late. I’m dramatically oversimplifying something that included thousands of people across decades of time, but the point is that they were looking at the optics vs. what really was. At this level, the actual physics of what was true.

On the other hand, you have someone like Amazon. I know I use them a lot as an example and they’ve had their fair share of missteps (especially lately), but Bezos fits so nicely into this idea of substance over optics in the long term. From the beginning, he constantly emphasized that profits would be minimized and put back into the company. He talked about how shareholders shouldn’t plan on much or any dividends. He has even committed to taking their entire operating profit from Q2 (an estimated 4B) to put it back into the company and asking investors to “take a seat” as the company ramps up spending. Admittedly, it’s focused on COVID testing and workplace safety so the optics also work to their advantage, but the idea stands: valuing what really is, what you’re really doing instead of just how it might look.

We hear this term “authentic voice” a lot; I think what that term is getting at is speaking what’s actually there vs. a simple facade. How do you know know if something is full of hollow promises and empty images or if it’s real? Well, optics do matter, and oftentimes matter a lot. But let’s not pursue them or take them at face value at the expense of what’s true. What’s true will ultimately give us dramatically better results and make a difference in our company and the world. You really only know when something is real by taking a page from Indy’s book to engage beyond the facade to take a sip from what’s really there.


To Learn more about Sterling Hawkins contact [email protected]

Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency. www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]