The Underoos of Leadership

Underoos batmanIf you grew up in the 1970s or 80s, you owned Underoos. For those who missed out on this momentous trend, Underoos forever changed clothing design and, from a personal standpoint, were a staple in my wardrobe. They also provide a fitting example of how we learn and teach the art of leadership.

underoos womderwomanIn the mid-1970s a marketing genius named Larry Weiss conceptualized a new take on kids’ underwear. Instead of the traditionally monotonous “tighty whities,” what if we were to imprint emblems and characters from popular culture (superheroes, Star Wars, Dukes of Hazard, Barbie, etc) onto the garments? Today, this may seem commonplace; however when Weiss pitched it, decorative underwear was a revolutionary concept….and it wasn’t Weiss’ first.

Ten years earlier, Weiss had revolutionized the cereal market when he created Fruity Pebbles. Like Underoos, Weiss pitched the idea of re-branding a lackluster product with a mainstream craze. No one cared about a Sugar Rice Krinkle but everyone wanted a box of sugary goodness featuring their favorite prehistory family.

It was putting entertainment together with cereal. Not just promotion, but interweaving mythology. – Larry Weiss

fruity-pebblesIf Weiss could bring enthusiasm to underwear and breakfast food, there is no reason why a topic like leadership must only be read through a dry, dissertation. There is so much untapped leadership research that is being ignored. This is information that would benefit the masses, improve workplace culture, and have an immediate impact on the bottom line. Yet the manner in which it is released does not translate for the everyday leadership practitioner, i.e, you. This is why I wrote my recent book Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes (now available on Amazon) and write on leadersayswhat.com.

Learning is about building connections between what you already know and the new data you are trying to absorb. If you can’t relate to new information, you can’t understand it or apply it. Through pop culture, complex ideas can be given context to bridges gaps and create links. Utilizing entertainment also holds people’s interest longer than an uninspired speech, shows ways in which we can apply the materials, and provides models for the “ideal” behaviors.

Like Underoos, Fruity Pebbles, and Cape, Spandex, Briefcase, re-brand your knowledge with a more amusing veneer. Don’t water down the content; just spice it up with whatever you watched on TV last night. It may take an extra minute, but your team will be more engaged in the conversation and will retain more of the wisdom you are trying to impart.