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This Barbie Made a Billion: Greta Gerwig's Barbillion Success

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

This summer, Greta Gerwig blasted through a major milestone when she became the first woman to surpass $1 billion in box office sales as a solo-director. This global phenomenon has a funny, smart screenplay that touches both gender and personal identity.

Barbie leaves perfect Barbieland to confront real-world humanity. Right away, she magnetically attracts stares while roller–blading on Venice Beach. She’s being objectified, while Ken is, for the first time, being noticed and respected. As the story unfolds, Barbie must save Barbieland from Ken’s attempted coup, to transform it to Kenland – a mirror of the world they experienced in LA.

In a Rolling Stone interview, Gerwig calls the film humanist above all else. Hierarchical power structures are dynamic and can swing too far. Ken’s revolution leaves Barbie feeling defeated, until America Ferrera’s character, Gloria, delivers an inspiring monologue that inspires Barbie to take action.

What can we learn from Barbie, through the lens of the Power Pairs™ universe? What saves Barbie (and Barbieland) in the end is a certain Power Pair in action: the Energetic Collaborator, a Green Anchor with a Red Spotlight. This is a common dynamic we see in leadership teams (check out a case study here). It’s also at the core of what Adam Grant was describing in his recent OpEd for The New York Times about how women deliberately use weak language. More on that soon.

To learn more about the Anchor and Spotlight dynamics that make up the 49 Power Pairs, read this post.

Power Pair 20: The Energetic Collaborator

Green Anchor

Barbie is, at her core, people-focused. Kindness and empathy, two Green characteristics, rule Barbieland. We can see this Green anchor most clearly in how Barbie relates to Ken. For example, early in the movie, Barbie’s response to Ken hurting himself on the beach reveals her empathetic nature. Later, after Ken realizes his mistake in trying to turn Barbieland into Kenland, Barbie responds with empathy and care, forgiving his mistake and empowering him to see himself as Kenough.

Red Spotlight

Barbie faces a critical moment upon returning to Barbieland and seeing it overrun with Kens and their total takeover of the world she once knew as safe and empowering. Her despondency only changes to action after Gloria’s monologue highlights the impossible expectations placed on women. The monologue becomes the manifestation of the Red Spotlight. A Red Spotlight adds an energizing fire to the Green Anchor. It's the only thing that will snap the other Barbies out of their brainwashing from the Kens and help them take action to return Barbieland to its homeostasis—but this time, with more fairness to the Kens, as well.

Through the Barbie film, Greta Gerwig shows us what the Energetic Collaborator looks like in crisis. With empathy, civility, and connection at its core, and energizing honesty as a spotlight, using this Power Pair can help teams approach challenges with both care and candor.


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