Sitting in my home theater with a bucket of popcorn, watching the grand finale of Star Wars’ nine-film, decades-defining sci-fi saga probably isn’t the time or the one would expect to learn the basic principles of goal-setting, team building, or positive business practices. And yet, hidden in plain sight amid Wookiees and blaster bolts were many foundational building blocks of good business. Yes, really!
Your organization might not employ any Force-sensitive ex-stormtroopers or adorable rolling robotic sidekicks (though maybe it should), but in an expanding universe of big data companies constantly upgrading, innovating, and evolving the industry’s best practices, it’s crucial to identify the most impactful underlying principles every team can apply to its business. No matter your brand’s vertical, team size, or stage of business development, useful information can be gleaned from Hollywood’s favorite skywalking heroes. Here are the lessons every company can learn from the Star Wars Resistance.
1. There is tremendous power in small groups
Numbers aren’t on the side of our heroes at almost any point in their journey. Of course, there’s Leia, in many ways the ideal team leader and exemplar of her unit’s core beliefs supported by a lifetime of credibility. There’s also Rey, Finn, and Poe, each offering specific skill sets to further the cause, assisted by a crew capable of carrying out individual tasks critical to the success of the mission. Their ranks are few, but they know and trust each other to perform their functions under Leia’s direction, even against terrible odds.
In fact, when faced with an enemy armed with seemingly endless resources, the odds for a comparably tiny venture appear minuscule. Yet in both fiction and everyday business, the power of a small, dedicated team with proper leadership and a joint goal to coalesce around is often underestimated. It turns out that teams comprised of just a handful of employees can actually impact a company’s bottom line in a number of significant ways.
Among the greatest advantages of small teams is the ability to construct and follow through with an action plan when time is in short supply. One of the Resistance’s greatest strengths was its capacity to draw up designs it knew wouldn’t always go according to plan, then adapt in the field to uphold the mission. The “move fast and break things” philosophy certainly isn’t without its flaws, but it did force Leia’s crew to reach decisions and act on them quickly before missing their window of opportunity.
2. Actionable goals lead to actual results
Speaking of goals, setting the right goal is integral to your team’s success. We see Leia deploy her team on a number of missions throughout the latest saga — locating Luke Skywalker, bringing down the First Order, and saving her son, to name a few. Each task had its challenges, but the end goal was always to restore the galaxy to a state of harmony.
It’s always positive to dream big, but those dreams must be supported by actionable goals with measurable results. In short, always think big, start small, and build incrementally. This is the mere definition of how to make rapid progress against lofty goals. It gives you the agility necessary to make mistakes along the way without putting too much at stake and then pivot your way to your destination informed by lessons learned. If objectives are abstract or too lofty when you get started, your team will be robbed of any sense of purpose or direction before the work even begins. Poe’s mutiny aboard one of the Resistance’s few remaining escape pods in The Last Jedi wasn’t born of insubordination (until this point in time he’d been among the most faithful and influential members of the Resistance), but a lack of clarity in his team’s goals and faith in his superiors led him to question middle-management’s actions — particularly as it continued to bring harm to his team.
Team members can only do so much when left in the dark. Strong leadership means always supplying context and direction for the what, the why, and the value-proposition behind each mission.
3. Acquiring and applying the right information is key
The heroes of Star Wars films both past and present have always relied on key insights derived from a massive amount of information. The driving force behind the Rebels’ daring trench run in A New Hope was a tiny flaw in the Empire’s stolen Death Star blueprint. It’s fair to say data analytics is at the heart of every informed decision the Resistance makes, including looking for some way to shut down a planet-sized, weaponized space station in the new trilogy.
The Resistance followed steps your business can apply to its own data analysis when faced with a task that at first appears impossibly large:
Clearly identify the information you’re hoping to discover (like an emergency shut-off exhaust port)
Acquire the minimum data sets required (stealing the Death Star plans)
Curate and present your hypothesis and findings
Present in the simplest form to inform decisions (can be done on Excel, tableau, or preferably a holographic projector)
Act swiftly and don’t wait for the data to be perfect
The ability to find answers in a vast pool of data can increase efficiency, identify areas of waste, and, above all, inform better decision-making in every facet of your business.
Conversely, the quest for perfection can often lead to analysis paralysis — take some risks on imperfect data and imperfect decisions in the interest of speed-to-market as long as you are transparent about it.
4. Proper prioritization leads to team success
You’ve hired the right team with the right leadership, set the right goals, and applied the right information to your action plan. But how can you be sure a job will get done now that plans are in motion? The answer lies in being able to filter out noise from substance.
At the start of The Force Awakens, Resistance fighters search for Luke Skywalker as the solution to all of its problems. By the film's end, the small band of heroes earns a major victory by destroying Starkiller Base and protecting the galaxy from immediate danger. Despite being the stated goal in the film’s opening expositional crawl, Rey only sets off to find Luke in the movie’s closing minutes. The Resistance faced challenges on multiple fronts but understood the order of operations necessary to achieve success.
This is where setting clear and simple goals pays off — missions succeed when driven by informed decisions. Blindly focusing on one singular long-term goal while losing sight of the incremental steps needed to get there would’ve resulted in chaos for the Resistance and can lead your business into similarly dangerous waters.
So don’t fret if your company’s competition is bigger, more established, or capable of greater influence — such is the case with every small start-up ever conceived. The Resistance didn’t earn its victories through overwhelming force or the size and might of its members. It took only a small squad supported by informed decision-making and a leader who knew how to utilize each individual’s respective strengths and weaknesses to get the job done.