The story behind the story of the most-watched TV show on the planet is a lesson unto itself: a perfect ‘don’t give up’ allegory of persistence and hard work and belief. For over a decade, Squid Game writer, Hwang Dong-hyuk shopped his concept to production houses, big-name stars, and financial backers only to be rejected over and over. At one point, he was so broke, he had to sell his laptop. But he never gave up. 10+ years later, Netflix rolled the dice on him and the rest is very much history. The show is number 1 in 90 countries and has no doubt spawned the Halloween costume of choice for 2021.
We could stop there but the gems of wisdom in the story of the show itself are too good to pass up.
Squid Game tells the tale of 456 people; broken by debt and money woes or bad life choices like gambling addiction, with nothing left to lose. The ‘players’ are wooed by the possibility of riches without knowing the true impact of losing. The contest slowly reduces the player count (gulp) until there is one victor through a series of classic Korean children’s games with… consequences. If you’re yet to see it, think Hunger Games with a gory, mass-murderous, Tarantino-style twist. Some mild spoilers follow – please don’t sue.
The first (and bloodiest) game is Red Light, Green Light – a race with restricted movements where contestants may progress on the green but must be motionless when the light is red (or they are shot and killed by a terrifying robot girl who will forever haunt our dreams). It’s brutal in the show but a good strategic reminder for us in the real world. Moving fast is never as important as moving forward. Speed here is the killer, and it can be for us too as we build brands and audience habits. The path to win is to tread steadily and purposefully, always with the goal in mind.
The honeycomb challenge reminds us to always improvise, innovate and think without boundaries.
But the fourth game is perhaps the best lesson of all. Teams of ten players face each other in a fight to the death contest of ‘Tug Of War’ with our protagonist (Seong Gi-hun) nervously competing with an underdog team. The motley crew has seemingly no chance given the limitations of their mixed genders (delivering less strength than some of the other, bigger all-male teams) as well as the deficit of the oldest player in the show – #001, Oh Il-nam, He didn’t stop them from powering on though, instead, strategy and leadership win the day. His frailty may have minimized his brute force but he perfectly played the vital role of coach, ‘all you need is good strategy combined with good teamwork’. This, plus the anchor of the strongest player and the correct placement of the other team members getting them through.
Sounds like a radio station or an on-air team doesn’t it?
You don’t have to have a superstar lineup. You just need the shared vision of a solid strategy, inspired people playing to their strengths, and some grit. Determination to not be beaten, the drive to work hard, dig deep, and excel when it matters most.
Compelling audiences is the Squid Game we play every day. Listeners demand dexterity, innovation, and passion from players. It poses the question – what will you do to win?