300, directed by Zack Snyder in 2007, is a fantasy war film based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller. Based on the Battle of Thermopylae in the Persian Wars, the film tells the story of King Leonidas, played by Gerard Butler, who leads 300 Spartans into battle against King Xerxes and his vast Persian army of over 300,000.
Whilst watching the movie, I couldn’t help but consider some of the trials and tribulations that Leonidas and his small army overcame – some of which can be applied as lessons in our modern office today.
1. Great strength comes from the people around you and in your team
“A Spartan’s true strength is the warrior next to him”
The Spartan army was successful on many occasions primarily because of their ability to work and rely on each other in a team. The same can be said about a great team in our workplace. When one person tries to tackle a project on their own, they can be successful, but at a few costs, namely time, money and effort. It costs money to work on something, either in your own expenditure or a business cost, the time to do that project and effort to get it done.
If you’re working alone, these costs become barriers which are difficult to overcome in many circumstances – but as a team, these walls can be weakened through group knowledge, workplace sharing and general camaraderie.
That’s not to say a lone worker isn’t productive. But having a productive team allows it’s members to focus more intently on the task at hand, without having to be so concerned with these external factors.
2. Aspire to make things useful for the future
“Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time”
When you start work on a new project, it’s easy to let standards slip from the get go. It starts with messy code (“I’ll fix this later” attitude) and quickly adds to your growing list of “technical debt”.
It’s good practice when writing a new piece of software or building a website to design and build the structure and technical layout of the application in the clearest way possible. Adding important comments in places where a developer might need them, layering a Photoshop file correctly and placing those layers into groups and keeping good documentation all help for future-proofing your work as much as possible.
Try to aim for the ability to let someone who has never looked at the project before come in and see the structure and technical layout without much effort. This might take some extra time at the start and along the way in a new piece of work, but making a job easier for someone else, or even yourself in the future is an invaluable strategy to cling on to.
3. Research new technologies and methods before adopting them
“When muscle failed, they turned to their magic”
In the movie, the Spartan army do surprisingly well for being ridiculously outnumbered. When King Xerxes, the tyrant, sees that throwing armour and strength at the 300, he tries different approaches – including new technologies of the time. In our world, technology is moving at a ridiculously fast pace. It’s a struggle to keep up with it.
There will always be a new and alternative way of doing things, and it’s important to research these new methods well before adopting them in your own workflow. It’s also crucial to look into the viable longevity of this new piece of technology or way of working before jumping in, head first.
I’ve had personal experience of this with some open-source e-commerce platforms (blog post about this soon). The open-source community is a wonderful and remarkable way we’ve moved forward as a technological society. Sharing information and the ability to make changes to these projects has enabled us to work together as a global team to make things better for everyone. However, it’s vitally important to look into the support that is available with these projects – especially if you rely heavily upon them within your own output.
4. Don’t be afraid of making difficult decisions
“I am sorry, my friend, but not all of us are meant to be soldiers”
The greater good. It’s a philosophy that means we can make decisions not based on the impact right now, but on how they will impact on events in the future. If you’ve watched 24, you’ll know what I mean…
Sometimes we have to make tough choices, whether they be personal or professional. It’s these decisions that mould us into the people we are today. In 300, Leonidas decides to not seek the assistance of another member of the team because he can see his weaknesses on the battlefield before he even sets foot on it. This is true of a great design and development team also. If you can admit what you’re good at, and also, what you’re not so good at, then you can focus on doing what you love, rather than being pushed into a situation that can breed stress.
A good leader will be able to see these abilities and manage a team accordingly – and an even better team will not take offence to a smart leadership decision.
5. A daunting task is just a bigger challenge
“Then we will fight in the shade”
King Leonidas and his 300 had a huge challenge to overcome. Outnumbered 1,000 to 1, political pressures and backstabbing meant that his task was tremendous in size, ability and strength. But, they never gave up. This attitude of seeing such a vast problem as just a big challenge invoked his army with great pride and sense of ease.
It’s easy to look at a big to-do list of tasks and feel deflated. You’ve got a mountain to climb, and you can only see the base.
The most productive way of tackling a large task is to break it down into smaller sub tasks, and if required, break those tasks down again until you find manageable ways of getting things done. Over time, and with a good amount of passion, you’ll get excited about seeing these big tasks, because you’ll feel good when they’re done. Ticking that last job off your list is one of life’s simple pleasures.
I hope you’ve found this information useful – I’m sure other movies will have lessons to be learned for our productivity and workflows. For now, get the popcorn out and go watch 300.