Squid Game Meets Work
October 11, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

South Korean dystopian hit drama “Squid Game” has become a global hit. It is now on its way to becoming Netflix’s biggest hit ever even surpassing other international hits such as “Bridgerton” and “Lupin” as explained by the streaming giant’s co-CEO Ted Saranos.

Entrepreneurs, executives and professionals have not been left behind by the wave. On LinkedIn most draw parallels between “Squid Games’” themes of inequality, competition at work and the difficulties in employment.

Sohail Khan Durrani, a Training and Assets Leader at EMEA (CoE) Nielsen detailed some lessons he learnt from the Korean hit show.

He starts by urging people to evaluate their partners well in business and ‘disengage when in doubt.’ No surprise here considering the lesson is drawn from Marble Game, arguably the most heart-wrenching scene in the whole show. Cho Sang Woo (Park Hae Soo) went through this round by betrayed his partner (and friend) Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi) thereby leaving him to die.

Personally, I didn’t find Sang Woo’s betrayal particularly evil. In a life-or-death situation, I don’t blame him for using his wits to live; I’m sure many of us if in the same situation would do the same. In a business setting, however, such betrayal among founding partners is usually detrimental to all parties. While the betrayer might get ahead in the short term, the talent loss is almost never replaced and the company suffers for it. A good example would be the feud between visionary Apple founder Steve Jobs and then Apple CEO John Sculley.

On teams, Sohail also explains the importance of having a strong and diversified team “to handle the most surprising situations.” This is perhaps best illustrated by the game Tug of War where a seemingly weaker member Oh ll-Nam became their most important asset and helped them win against much stronger opposition. As an old man (spoiler alert!) and the founder of the game, he provided special insight on how to beat the opposing team despite their obvious physical disadvantages.

However, for marketing specialists Mahii Bakhtani, the show was “a grim reflection of modern society.”

She explains how financial pressure, as depicted throughout the show, forces some people into boring, mundane and strenuous 9 to 5 employment.

We’re all struggling on the very same boat, whatever our degrees or experience – the job market remains bleak, no matter where you’re from. We’re more than willing to get slapped, kicked, and pushed around just for a chance at that golden ticket to where our dreams will supposedly come true.”

She decries the competition mindset in employment, the need to be “the last man standing” explaining that, just like the show, many workers are motivated by the fear of losing their jobs rather than passion for their work.

Her post finishes with a plea for more empathy and emotional intelligence at work so that employment does not evolve into a ‘win-or-die’ situation like The Squid Game but rather a “co-operation” where members equally participate and support each other.

For Adeel Khan Durrani, the show’s childhood games help one understand a few “Management & Strategy’ techniques to steer through antagonizing problems.”

From Red Light – Green Light we can learn to be more productive, prioritizing progress over speed as ‘fast can be fatal.’

Honeycomb teaches one to be dynamic, willing to challenge conventional methods and think outside the box.

From Tug of War, we learn that decisive leaders with an inspiring vision and an effective strategy are often better than ‘strong teams.’ As demonstrated in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, sometimes a single person armed with the truth is better than a group believing in a lie.

The controversial Marble Game can teach one to be more empathetic to drive better results. I would however argue the game incentivized individual achievement over teamwork.

From the Glass Stepping Stones game, Adeel explains the importance of learning from mistakes. Organizations should set up a learning culture so that members can grow from their own and each other’s mistakes. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

And finally, from the Squid Game, we can learn the importance of understanding competitive advantage. “In the face of fierce competition, be on the offence to utilize it fully.”

More importantly by the end of the show, after all, but one contestant has died for money, we ask ourselves whether the whole venture was truly worth hundreds of lives.  Aaron Robinson from Operation Services at Starbucks explains this well saying:

“It’s a beautiful build on the timeless question, can money buy you happiness?”

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