Aside from offering a unique experience and elaborate, imaginative entertainment, Star Wars has a lot to offer in terms of knowledge of business ownership. Here are two powerful lessons from Star Wars: A New Hope on the business ownership journey.
1. It’s all in the details
If you want to stay on top of your game, don’t forget the womp rats.
It’s one of the most memorable lines from A New Hope. Luke Skywalker, having learned that the Death Star’s Achilles heel is a two-meter-wide exhaust port leading straight to its reactor core, boasts to a fellow pilot: “I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They’re not much bigger than two meters.” A few hours later, he fires a couple of proton torpedoes down the aforementioned exhaust port and saves the day.
If it seems implausible that an organization as technologically advanced and wealthy as the Empire would overlook such a crucial detail, here’s author and media expert Michael Levine on why business empires do it all the time:
“Quality control becomes much more difficult the larger you are. It is involved and time consuming. … Small business owners should have an obsessive compulsion to detail. They should mystery-shop themselves at their businesses and see the brutal facts.”
They should mystery-shop themselves at their businesses and see the brutal facts. Mystery-shopping your business means experiencing it as if you were a first-time customer instead of the owner. Customers pay attention to details. They’re picky; they want the most bang for their buck; they launch proton torpedoes when dissatisfied. If a customer sits down at the perfect restaurant—perfect lighting, décor, menu, everything—and then notices that their waiter’s fingernails are dirty, guess which detail they’ll take home with them that night? (Hint: it’s the one they’ll tell all their friends about.)
As the boss of your small business, it may not be easy to approach it with the kind of objectivity that will allow you to really see it, warts and all. If you have employees, your presence will cause them to behave differently than they normally would. (Darth Vader, helmeted, masked, hissing audibly and encased in gleaming black armor, probably wasn’t the ideal man to stroll around the Death Star pretending he didn’t work there.) It’s also likely that you won’t always be able to perform fingernail inspection yourself. For this reason, busy grocery store managers hire everyday people to walk their aisles and report back with their impressions. Find a way to perform a similar service for your small business. If Darth Vader had done so, he might not have been obligated to superintend the construction of a new Death Star.
2. Company culture matters
If you want your employees to be at their best, don’t throttle them for making mistakes.
Whether you have one employee or a hundred, your company has a culture. This culture reflects your company’s vision, assumptions, beliefs and values. Company culture also reflects the overall mood of the company—employees, executives, and shareholders alike. Businesses with healthy cultures thrive, while those with the opposite either fail or just limp along.
(For more on company culture, read: How to Build a Happy Company Culture the Scrappy Way.)
And it’s important to note that your business’s outward success isn’t necessarily a sign that all is well within. In A New Hope, for example, the Empire appears to be doing great. It’s got the ships and the soldiers and the guns; everything’s shiny and big and expensive-looking; it can blow up whole planets with its new gazillion dollar space station; its company culture must be exemplary!
Nope. You could argue that a group of people voluntarily living on something called the Death Star were never that culturally healthy to begin with, but history has proven that any organization can thrive with a shared vision, strong leadership and rank-and-file contentment. What really tells us that something is rotten in the heart of the Empire is that Darth Vader is allowed to murder loyal and effective staff members for disappointing him—and in full view of their quaking coworkers. He not only introduces a spirit of terror and uncertainty at headquarters, he ensures that the replacement will go about his new job in a state of crippling anxiety. Darth Vader’s drastic punishments don’t end employee error on the Death Star; they increase it until everything blows up in his face.
The Rebellion, on the other hand, looks puny and weak, but its company culture is such that an exuberant Luke Skywalker will one day speak for everyone when he exclaims, “Right now, I feel like I could take on the whole Empire myself!” You see smiles on the faces of rebels, they joke and laugh with each other, and when disasters occur—like the Empire violently invading their secret base on Hoth—nobody panics or points fingers. They keep moving forward, even when they’re being pushed back.
Unity, optimism, ambition, resourcefulness, initiative—a company that can instill these values in its culture is a force to be reckoned with (pun intended). To do so, you’ll not only have to consciously lay out such a vision, you’ll have to return to it frequently. This might be a relatively simple procedure if you’re on your own, but if you have employees you’ll want their input, too. With patience and persistence, this combination of idealism and practical oversight can help you turn your small business dream into a small business reality.
Good thing for the Rebellion that Darth Vader didn’t bother to take the time!
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Jamison is a writer and researcher based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Along with the intricacies of entrepreneurship and small business, his interests include philosophy, literature and history.