In Six Business Lessons from ‘Star Wars‘, A.J. Jacobs uses Star Wars in order to provide examples of how to best approach the business world. Similarly, the factors of learning agility, which are key elements of determining high potentials in business, can connect to these business lessons.
Based on the Korn Ferry Hay Group model, there are five main factors of learning agility: Mental Agility, Change Agility, People Agility, Results Agility and Self-Awareness. Jacobs cites Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein, who drew the connection between Star Wars and the business world. He explains that it was Sunstein’s book, The World According to Star Wars, that first drew Jacobs into examining the six pieces of business wisdom that Star Wars provides.
The first piece of wisdom is that in order to succeed in business, one needs to excel at improvisation. In other words, a person’s adaptability determines their ability to excel in the business world. This can be connected to the Change Agility factor of Learning Agility. Change Agility is determined by how flexible one is when it comes to change. It is also a key factor in determining one’s willingness to take risks. Jacobs cites how Yoda discussed how unknown the future is, which is true in the business world as well and is why it is so important to be willing to take risks, improvise and adapt. If one is not change agile, or willing to improvise and take risks, then they cannot succeed in a world where the future is uncertain.
Since there are six business lessons and only five factors of Learning Agility, the factor that paralleled to two of the lessons was Mental Agility. The second business lesson was about how a person learns from previous experiences and is constantly looking for parallels and connections to other concepts. George Lucas created the idea of Star Wars as a “mashup” of two completely separate concepts that worked together to create the world he envisioned. Looking for parallels and contrasts in concepts is an aspect of Mental Agility. Similarly, Jacobs mentions the importance of using one’s force, as is described throughout the Star Wars movies. In Jacob’s perspective using the force is one’s ability to see patterns when others are unable to. An aspect of Mental Agility is one’s ability to sift through complexity and grasp the essence as well as one’s ability to delve into deep problems. Therefore, to be mentally agile is to use “the force.”
Jacobs discusses the story of Harrison Ford, who initially was a crew member working as a carpenter on the set of Star Wars, until George Lucas saw and cast him as Hans Solo. This importance of showing up in person and paying attention to what people have to say or who they are is an aspect of People Agility. Networking is another characteristic of people agility. Harrison Ford leveraged his strong networking ability to be cast as Hans Solo, a role which job set his career into motion and brought him success.
Jacobs also delves into the issue of overconfidence and how it can be detrimental to one’s career in business. Similarly one’s Self-Awareness is a key factor of their Learning Agility. Self-Awareness is the level to which a person knows and understands his or her personal strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. Using the character of Darth Vader, Jacobs discusses how he believed the resistance had no chance against the empire. His overconfidence and lack of Self-Awareness is the reason for his downfall. Not understanding one’s blind spots can lead careers to derail.
Finally, the sixth business lesson is about optimism and being the underdog. Results Agility discusses ones ability to have a high level of perseverance. Just as Hans Solo did not want to know the odds of him navigating past an asteroid field, people in the business world want to persevere and succeed despite the fact that the odds might be against them.
Overall, one can learn a significant amount by Star Wars since it teaches lessons that can be connected to the factors of Learning Agility. Watching the Star Wars movies and learning the messages they provide to their audiences can only help breed more agile leaders.