Friday, 9 March 2012

Ewoks vs Na'vi: planning and leadership is important.

Another in my series of "you can make any points about management you like with pretty much any moview you like". Spoilers for both RoTJ and Avatar follow...

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Galactic management #2: Ewok edition

Second in an occasional series. Part 1 is here.


1. Be prepared. The Ewoks, being tiny stone-age teddy bears, were able to defeat an entire legion of Imperial troops partly through a cunning collection of traps, which considering their scale and complexity, must have already been in place prior to the rebel landing party (perhaps the Ewoks were already considering a strike against the Empire). Without the giant tree trunks to crush the Empire's AT-ST walkers, the Ewoks would have been significantly disadvantaged.

2. In fluid and poorly-understood situations, it pays to diversify. The Ewoks, who still called blasters "lightning sticks" (if I remember the cartoon series correctly), could not possibly have comprehended which of their weapons would make an impact on the Imperial troops. We see them deploy a great many different tools with varying degrees of success -- the suspended logs and the rolling bed of logs worked well against the AT-STs, and one might have predicted such. But the catapults and the rocks-dropped-from-parawings were pretty useless. Similarly, against the ground troops the legion of archers proved pretty hopeless but simply throwing rocks from a high vantage point and the bolasses worked well. If the Ewoks had concentrated all of their resources in one basket, they may well have picked an ineffective tactic. Archers and catapults on the face of it may have seemed like a sensible strategy but overcommitting to them would have been fatal.

3. Big gambles sometimes pay off -- but sometimes they don't. So have a contingency plan! The Ewoks joined forces with a tiny band of rebels to fight an evil Empire that had so far done little to alter their way of life, to secure their freedom. For them, it worked. The Emperor built a massive space station to lure the rebels out and destroy them once and for all, and he failed. Both groups, though, appeared not to have any sort of backup plan -- the Emperor was caught short when the rebels finally did nail the shield generator, and the Ewoks would surely have been mercilessly wiped out by the Empire had they failed. We should have seen the Ewoks evacuating children and elderly to a more secure location, and the Emperor should have had a private shuttle -- or even a private Star Destroyer, considering the scale of DS2! -- waiting for him.

4. Relationships matter. If the Empire had landed and greeted the Ewoks with gifts and knowledge instead of speeder bikes and stormtroopers, the rebels would not have found such a fertile hotbed of dissent right in the middle of a vital piece of Empire territory. Similarly, we see both C-3PO and Leia form relationships with the Ewoks, one through an intellectual and emotional appeal through storytelling to the horrors of Empire and the latter an individual bond formed through joint peril and success. So consider the relationships you have as a manager, and as a client, and as a supplier, and make sure that those relationships are productive and pleasing both ways. "Developing rapport" isn't sufficient -- you need to build a shared structure built on delivery and success that both parties are committed to. Amazon and Fog Creek know this, with their strong focus on consumer satisfaction. So does Toyota, with its lean production techniques that rely on good-quality supplier relationships.

5. Er, I'm starting to struggle here. Don't expend disproportionate resources on diversions? We see one Ewok steal a speeder bike, and the result is that the entire squad of speeder troops chases him, leaving the bunker almost entirely undefended. Similarly, I've seen companies spend extraordinary amounts of effort chasing contracts or features that simply won't deliver value equal to the effort put in.

6. Okay, here's a bonus one. If you have extra-thick blast doors and there's a rebel fleet in space, and potentially some insurgents on the ground, don't leave your doors so unlocked a single bowcaster shot can blast them open. Otherwise someone might fill your office/server/event with explosives and blow it to pieces. So attention to detail and adherence to well-defined procedures matters if you don't want to be caught off-guard by something really stupid and easily preventable.

(Part 1 - Palpatine on management)

Galactic management #1

So, in a shocking revelation, a Forbes staff-writer knows less about Star Wars than I do (nb. this is not necessarily a point in my favour!).

Here's my riposte to that article, from a google plus conversation -- with footnotes now hyperlinked...

The Emperor was entirely selfish -- he didn't care if the Empire continued after his death (although presumably he wasn't planning on dying!) and from his perspective there was simply no need to consider a power structure to follow him. In fact, as Tim Zahn makes clear in the wonderful Thrawn series of books, the Empire is still going 5 years after the Emperor's death, albeit in a more fractured and limited form. Other EU books show that there are still scattered warlords derived from the old Empire even 10 years after the fall. By putting power in the hands of regional governors instead of a central bureaucracy, the Empire in fact appears to have been far more resilient to conquest than the Old Republic, which appears to have been turned from the inside into an Empire by a single ambitious prick in only a few years.

Not in the films, but Zahn makes a terrifying case in Heir to the Empire that in fact, the Emperor used the Force to low-level mind-meld all of his subjects into a sort of super-hive-mind bent to his will. What is more of a stake than being directly controlled by the leader himself, eh?

Of course, Vader was different. Petty and vindictive. No wonder the Emperor was tiring of his lieutenant and looking for some fresh blood. And, having wiped out all of the Jedi [fn1] he had few options for a replacement. Now that definitely was a mistake and a lesson for us all: monopolies are bad for everyone.

The second death star, as the author completely fails to note, was built -- not even completed -- as a trap to lure out the Rebel Alliance, who would no doubt be convinced that this second giant space station who terrorize the galaxy. In fact, since DS2 was supposed to be five times as large as DS1, and was nearly completed in the three years between ANH and ROTJ, the Emperor clearly could have completed a second smaller Death Star and chose not to. He also cleverly lured the rebels' Bothan spies into believing the DS2 was not yet functional and that a strike was likely to be successful. DS2 even had a force field capable of deflecting the snub-fighters that destroyed DS1!

The Emperor's real failure was not building DS2, but in a failure of empathy. A failure to believe that Vader could hold any residual feelings for his son. The cruelty of torturing a father's child right in front of him, presumably in an attempt to cement his mastery over Vader. The Emperor clearly had Vader on too long a leash -- perhaps, now more machine than man, using the force brainwashing would have simply destroyed Anakin's frail form. Perhaps the Emperor was simply gleefully overconfident, he certainly appeared that way.

The Empire's final failure, of course, was the underestimation of the Ewoks on Endor. "An entire legion" of the Empire's finest were bested by a small army of teddy bears. Perhaps both Anakin and Sidious failed to learn properly from Yoda, who declared "size matters not". Certainly the Ewoks were far better prepared, and operating in friendly territory already laced with guerilla warfare traps, but were still only stone-age natives. Perhaps the Emperor simply wasn't able to Force-direct such a large battle both in space and on the surface while simultaneously attempting to turn Skywalker on the DS2. Perhaps that was Luke's cunning plan all along, to stretch the Emperor's mind control powers so far that something had to give.

1: all, that is, apart from about a billion force-sensitive people who escaped the purges in various ways or were born after them: Kyle Katarn, Mara Jade, Corran Horn, and of course Luke and Leia.

(Part 2 - Galactic Management: Ewok Edition)