5 lessons from ‘Star Wars’ that can transform startup managers’ strategies and tactics

'I have a bad feeling about this' are actually words to live by

As leader of the Jedi council in the “Star Wars” universe, Yoda was essentially their CEO.

It was his job to see the future, a talent specifically honed by the visionary warrior monks, and yet he consistently allowed his vision to be clouded by the dark side of the Force. Despite his power, experience, authority and wisdom, Yoda was shockingly bad at understanding what was happening around him until it was too late.

For a decade, the Jedi Grand Master worked directly with the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Sidious, who was hiding right under Yoda’s nose as the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic. Yoda’s failure to recognize changes as they were happening resulted in the rise of Palpatine’s empire and the overhaul of an entire culture’s way of life.

When faced with confusing facts and suspicious clues, what did Yoda do? He retreated to his chambers to meditate, but he did not take action.

Yes, Yoda got Kodaked.

Unfortunately, this is all too common among the leadership of incumbent corporations. Many executives act as though they believe good times will never end or as if they don’t care if it does.

Whether the example is the CEO of Kodak dismissing digital photography, or the CEO of Blockbuster infamously downplaying the threat of Netflix, it seems there is always another market leader blissfully ignoring the winds of change.

‘I have a bad feeling about this’ are words leaders should live by, because the joke shows awareness and proactivity.

In contrast to Yoda, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi combined insight and action to preserve hope for the future.

Seeing the future is also the goal of startup founders, corporate leaders and venture capitalists. With that in mind, here are five lessons from the heroic actions of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and how corporate and startup executives alike can apply these ideas to devise transformational strategies and tactics:

Find trouble before it starts by gathering street-level data

When the Sith criticize the Jedi for arrogance, their argument is justified, because the Jedi’s leader Yoda is out of touch. The Jedi Council sits in a literal ivory tower, sending Obi-Wan Kenobi on missions. As one of the Jedi’s top field agents, he is able to gather information to help understand what’s happening across the republic.

It is Kenobi who first learns that Darth Tyranus is actually Count Dooku during the Clone Wars, and he continues to pull on the threads of each clue he finds, always in a quest to learn more. Similarly, it is Kenobi who travels to Kamino in Episode II to unravel the mystery of the clone army.

The lesson for innovators is that you can’t meditate your way to organizational change. The “Star Wars” refrain, “I have a bad feeling about this,” might equate to Intel co-founder Andy Grove’s “Only the paranoid survive.”

Grove’s definition of paranoia can be interpreted to mean that it’s important to pay attention at all times. This implies being unsatisfied with lack of clarity, and investigating to acquire “street-level” information about markets, customers and the state of everyone else’s capabilities.

At a practical level, street-level data means that corporations should meet lots of potentially disruptive startups, and startups should meet with potentially complementary or competitive corporations. Each should meet with as many customers and prospective customers as possible.

Be bold and decisive

Obi-Wan tracks down General Grievous on Utapau in Episode III. While the Separatist cyborg leader has killed dozens of Jedi, the vastly outnumbered Kenobi realizes he must take the risk of confronting Grievous. He leaps from above in the midst of dozens of enemy droids, delivering a line that has become meme fodder, “Hello, there.”