Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes its U.S. premiere Dec. 9, and is due to roll out in another 45 countries within the first week. The film is anticipated to match or top the $248-million opening weekend debut of the last installation in the series, 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Whether you are a passionate fan of the saga already armed with prepaid tickets for the first viewing, or relatively uninvolved sideline onlooker hovering at the periphery of the blockbuster series, there are definitely some very valuable entrepreneurial takeaways to be garnered from the series’ resonating universal themes, bumpy creative journey and large-scale commercial success. Here’s what you can learn and how you can apply the lessons to your daily thinking and attitude as an entrepreneur.
Learn from the universe: Creativity
Screenwriter and film director George Lucas chose nothing less than the universe and all its galaxies as the boundless setting for the Star Wars saga, and created a multitude of aliens, robotic droids and humanoid monsters of all sizes, shapes and colors. We could invite ourselves to consider this as a metaphor for entrepreneurial possibility. What could better represent the vastness of potential or the opportunity for exploration, than a limitless, borderless intergalactic canvas, against which to weave a personal tapestry of tales, creatures and relationships?
This is an insight and encouragement for each of us, as entrepreneurs, to reach for the stars, be bold and fearlessly inventive, so that our external actions match what Diane Sawyer in her 1989 documentary for ABC described as a reflection of “the universe within: an imagination inhabited by the hairiest [Chewbacca], cuddliest [Yoda], slimiest [Jabba the Hutt], ugliest [Ponda Baba] things you’ve ever seen.” Let the galaxy be our creative limit.
Learn from the Jedi Order: Mentorship
A second insight that the Star Wars saga can bestow upon the entrepreneurial attitude is revealed by the Tao and Buddhist-inspired “Jedi Way.” The young Padawans all submit to a long apprenticeship before they come into their full power as mystical Jedi knights. In other words, they cannot — and are not expected to — go it alone; guidance and training under the supervision of an older and more expert Jedi master is part of their growth journey. Luke Skywalker trained first under Obi-Wan Kenobi and then under Yoda.
Similarly, there are my knowledge no successful entrepreneurs today who wouldn’t credit one or even several mentors as an important part of their career trajectory. No one learns in a void, so it is those who are able to absorb the wisdom of others who will set themselves apart. There is no shortage of online mentorship anecdotes shared by business luminaries; even Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates credit much of their success to their mentors.
Learn from the Jedi philosophy: Intuition
The Jedi knights are in touch with the core of their being; they are taught to trust their feelings and intuitions, in some cases above and beyond apparent rationality. Their training is about making space to receive, feel and practice. This is what Yoda’s lessons to Luke in the dreary swamps of Dagobah are about: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” It is what ultimately makes Luke’s attack on the Death Star successful: In the heat of the battle, he pushes away the viewfinder, leans inwards toward the intangible power of the Force and lets himself be guided by his intuition to fire his winning shot.
The other Jedi habit we can therefore add to our entrepreneurial toolkit regards intuitive understanding, or what author and branding expert Bernadette Jiwa calls hunch. Jiwa reminds us that while our world is very much governed by data-driven decision making, we must not underestimate “the less talked about and often unexplored intangibles of innovation: empathy, creativity, trust and uncertainty.” As Jiwa says, “We use our intuition to make business decisions, it’s just not fashionable to admit it.”
Learn from the Force: Interconnectedness
The Force, and tapping into it correctly to achieve personal success and contribute to the greater good and robust growth of the community, is a common theme of the entire Star Wars saga. It is a challenge that all Padawans face. They learn to put aside any ambitions of immediate personal victory or glory, in order to patiently uncover, align and work with the Force.
This is precisely what Yoda strives to impart to young Luke, and what his father Anakin before him failed to grasp: learning to tune in, wait, listen and feel, in order to become one with the field of energy within which he is working. Only then will he be able to harness his skills to make his most impactful contribution.
It is growing increasingly clear to me that a successful entrepreneurial attitude must indeed acknowledge the existence of sometimes mysterious, mostly invisible, energy fields, and take into account the whole in terms of a total and interrelated ecosystem — and not just as an interaction of separate and independent parts.
In an article for the Huffington Post, MIT’s Professor Otto Scharmer, who researches and teaches about the “social field of presencing” that “makes our human essence more present to the world, to each other, and to ourselves,” calls this the transition from ego to eco-system. The only sustainable way to enduringly transform business, society and self, Scharmer argues, is to co-create the future from a place of presence, which begins with listening and empathy, versus downloading and a me-first attitude.
Learn from George Lucas: Focus
The Star Wars overall creative journey as it has evolved over the last four decades is a curious mix of coherence and contradiction, order and chaos, focus and pivot. Much has been said and written about the flaws in plot, chronology and character portrayal. The trilogies have witnessed changes in screenwriter, director and producer. The leaps backward and forward in time have sometimes been clumsily patched. I see it as fascinatingly illustrative of the organic unfolding of life itself: non-linear and endearingly tumultuous.
From this wider perspective, what strikes me most profoundly entrepreneurially speaking is George Lucas’s capacity for focus: to have known when and where to improvise, when and where to let go of his brainchild and release it to a life of its own and to new partners. He brought it to life when few people believed in the project, he had the audacity to invent as he went along, the business acumen to immediately trade off part of his director’s salary against merchandising rights, and last but not least, he knew from the beginning that you can’t please everyone. In a recent interview, he told the Independent: “None of it makes any difference — in the real world, the critics, certain fans, they’re not very friendly — but when you see all these little kids, and the look on their faces, it’s everything.”