The new Star Wars movie opens next week, but there are already several powerful life lessons that we can all learn from the way it was made. Here are some:
1. Expand your customer base--Star Wars was essentially guaranteed a significant audience by virtue of its brand, but, as smart businesspeople, Disney--which purchased Lucasfilm and its Star Wars franchise for $4-Billion in 2012 - took steps to grow, and maximize, its audience. The primary heroes in the original films were white men, and nearly all the significant dialogue was between them. It should be of no surprise then, that, at least in my experience as a child, the movies' fan base was primarily male. For the upcoming film, however, Disney crafted a script with a young woman and a non-white actor as primary protagonists, a strategic move which will undoubtedly attract a larger audience and establish a wider following and fan base for this and future films--growing profits and enhancing the value of the brand.
2. Sometimes it is possible to leapfrog to the top--While some people progress along a steady path of career growth, there are sometimes opportunities for rapid advancement. Prior to being cast as the female lead in the new movie, Daisy Ridley, was, as Rolling Stone put it, "a total unknown;" in fact, on the day in 2014 that Disney announced that she had been cast to play what might be the most coveted role for an actress in years, she had no Wikipedia page, her IMDB page had no bio, and her Twitter account (since disabled) had but a few hundred followers. It's a-year-and-a-half later and she has already been on the covers of Elle, Glamour, Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly, and her image pictured on a British postage stamp. While most of us will not make rapid career jumps of anywhere near that magnitude, we should not ignore opportunities for leapfrogging; they can, and do, happen.
3. Someone is going to win--why not try to make it be you. There have been folks who have described being cast in a lead role in Start Wars as akin to winning the lottery, and, to some extent that may be true. But there is a major difference. There are no guaranteed winners in a lottery, but a major role in a film has to be filled; someone has to win. People often do not seek positions or roles because they don't feel sufficiently talented, not realizing that the person who will eventually get the job and the rewards that come along with it are not intrinsically any better than they are. Neither Ridley nor John Boyega, the male lead in the new Star Wars film, had what industry veterans would term significant experience, but they managed to land the jobs of a lifetime. Don't be afraid of being underqualified or of looking silly when taking on a respectable challenge or applying for a position whose job you feel you can do. I discussed a related topic in a recent piece for Fortune's Leadership Insider network.
4. Fortunes can change rapidly--so act accordingly. According to the NY Times, just before earning her role in the film, Ridley was earning minimum wage working in a bar; she's clearly going to be in a different income bracket moving forward. While most of us are unlikely to experience rapid financial transformations of quite this nature, fortunes often do change far faster than we expect. Work hard to make it for the better.
5. Sometimes only first place matters. I don't know who would have been the second choice for any of the major roles in the film, and that illustrates an important point: if Ridley had come in second she might still be earning minimum wage in a bar and someone else whose name neither I nor you would recognize today would have been on the cover of major magazines and pictured on a British stamp. Sometimes you need to come in first.
6. But don't forget - sometimes second place wins later on--Sometimes people who don't get a position that they seek still impress those doing the hiring, and end up being offered other roles that also transform their lives. This also happens when selling products; a prospect may not need your offering in his or her current role, but may think of you at a future date. So don't let the failure to obtain a particular role or sale disturb your karma--keep impressing.
7. Take criticism from your loyal fans--Disney is believed to have cut out from its film characters that many fans loyal to the brand disliked, thereby improving its customers' satisfaction. (For those unclear in this regard Google "Jar Jar Binks.") Giving customers what they want makes them happier to buy from you--which can translate into more revenue and profits. Remember, despite any cultural significance it may have and all sorts of emotional attachment that some people have to it, Star Wars is ultimately a business whose primary objective is to make money.
8. Nostalgic feelings can be powerful--As was also seen vis--vis Back to the Future day in October, Star Wars benefits from Generation Xers and Millennials for whom the firms are a connection to their childhood. Leveraging this human emotion can be of great value to a business--as it is to the Start Wars franchise.
9. Humans like to see good triumph over evil - and, in many ways, that's what Star Wars is about. In our post 9/11 world of mass shootings, terrorism, ISIS, and a potentially nuclear Iran, we love powerful stories of good winning over evil. In general, stressing happiness, positive, and good bring more success to people and businesses than focusing on negativity.
10. Leverage current communication mechanisms for your benefit--Disney has released various cast photographs, still images, and video clips (trailers) from the movie since April of 2014. With an already interested fan-base (see above), these strategically released teasers naturally went viral on social media, and have drummed up tremendous interest in the film. In the 1970s and 1980s when the first Star Wars trilogy came out, today's communication mechanisms would have been viewed as science fiction, and even the second set of Star Wars movies, which were released from 1999 to 2005, predated the social media revolution. Reach your audience the way your audience wants to be reached--and give them the ability to easily spread the word.
11. Keep secrets (until the right time to share them) - Despite tremendous anticipation for the film, Disney has successfully protected the film and script. The actors involved could not disclose to their friends the life-changing news of their involvement until the official announcement either. There are times in your life when you may feel the urge to share information, but it is far better not to. Resist the temptation.
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