Agile Marketing Lessons From Star Wars

Agile Marketing Lessons From Star Wars

Agile Marketing Lessons From Star Wars
Agile Marketing Lessons From Star Wars
 


As I sat in a darkened theater watching yet another Death Star-like space station explode, I was struck by a revelatory thought: the Death Star is the ultimate example of how dangerous it can be to blindly follow a plan.  The Empire pours untold quantities of money and time into these massive projects. They pin all their hopes on their success. People literally die while making them a reality.  And then they explode.
Of course, it’s not just that they explode; they get blown up by some plucky kid flying a tiny starfighter that can be responsive and…wait for it…agile.  That’s right: Star Wars is one of the best use cases for agile methodologies out there. Here’s why.

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The Cost of Violating Agile Marketing Values

While the Death Stars’ enormous explosions are obvious symptoms of the Empire’s ignorance of agile values, there are other key indicators of what happens when you’re too late to the agile party.  So I'm going to take a look at some of the core values of agile marketing and how the Rebellion’s closer adherence to them leads to their eventual victory.  Hang onto your light sabers, folks. It’s about to get really nerdy.

Darth Vader Demonstrates His Relative Agility

Agile Value: Validated Learning Over Opinions and Conventions  Early on in Episode IV the middle managers of the Death Star are talking about how great their newest project is. One of them declares, “this battle station is now the ultimate power in the universe!”  That is an unvalidated opinion if I’ve ever heard one.  This officer is relying on the conventions of the Empire — namely that they are capable of harnessing limitless power to destroy their enemies — to form his opinion. He hasn’t even tried to test or explore this hypothesis.  Unfortunately for him his VP of Destroying Stuff, Darth Vader, steps in with an instant contradiction. The Force, he reminds Middle Manager, is far more powerful than any battle station.  Middle Manager is unimpressed and scoffs at Darth Vader’s, “sorcerer’s ways.”  
 
Unfortunately for that guy Darth has a lot of validated learning on his side, and he demonstrates it by choking the Middle Manager using The Force.  What we’ll find out later on in the series, however, is that Darth hasn’t completely validated his understanding about how The Force works. He may realize that its power trumps that of the Death Star, but he hasn’t delved deeply enough to get at the real heart of what it means.  Spoiler alert: This will ultimately lead to his defeat at the hands of the much more agile Rebellion.

A Dangerously Siloed Empire

Agile Value: Customer-focused collaboration over silos & hierarchy  There aren’t many organizations who are more siloed or more steeped in hierarchy than The Empire.  The Stormtroopers who are implementing its nefarious strategy have no understanding of what’s going on above their heads, which makes them very ineffective at their jobs. Nowhere is this clearer than in the scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi is secretly taking down a tractor beam just a few feet away from a couple of Stormtrooper grunts.
Obi-Wan is super agile. The stormtroopers, not so much. Image source: customstarwars.xs.hu  As the best laid plans of their bosses come crashing down, one Stormtrooper wonders, “What do you think is going on?”  His equally clueless colleague replies, “Maybe it’s another drill.”  The danger of silos in action.

The Rebels Demonstrate the Power of Collaboration

Agile Value: Customer-focused collaboration over silos & hierarchy  The Rebel Alliance, on the other hand, has to clearly communicate their skills and goals throughout their organization. Granted this is partially because their individual chances of survival are tiny, but it’s a useful practice nonetheless.  As a result when one rebel goes down others are ready to take his/her place without losing time getting up to speed on strategy or tactics. It’s hard to imagine dialogue like that of the Stormtroopers happening between two rebels.  Instead, they’d be alert to potential dangers and able to react in real time.  (To be fair, this isn’t really “customer”-focused collaboration as much as it is “enemy”-focused, but the lessons are clear nonetheless.)

When Big Bang Campaigns Fail: The Death Star Fable

Agile values: Adaptive and iterative campaigns over big bang campaigns AND Many small experiments over a few large bets  The Empire made an understandable mistake: they figured that if a whole bunch of little weapons are good, one completely enormous weapon must be awesome.  But the flaw in this plan is just like the flaw in every big bang campaign. If it fails, it fails big.  In the case of the Death Star, the size of its failure was in direct proportion to its actual size.
The Death Star is definitely NOT agile. Image source: thefw.com  For marketing teams, our the failure risk also increases with our project size. When we pour a quarter’s worth of resources into a campaign it had better work, and work well. If it’s a year’s worth of resources the pressure for a payoff is even higher.  Just think about if you were involved in making the Death Star, and then it blew up when it was barely functional.  You definitely don’t want to be in that annual review meeting.

Adaptive and Iterative Campaigns Win the Race

Agile value: Adaptive and iterative campaigns over big bang campaigns  In fairness to The Empire, their campaign didn’t fail entirely based on flaws in its design or execution. The more agile competition, the Rebel Alliance, took it down using an adaptive and iterative strategy.  Each individual fighter learned from the efforts (and failures) of the planes that came before him until Luke was finally able to see the lesson that all that data was revealing: conventional methods could not succeed.  Instead, following Obi-Wan’s guidance, Luke had to use The Force to understand when to fire his missile.  But without being able to iterate on the previous “failures” of his fellow rebels he might never have been able to make this connection.

Want More Star Wars Examples of Agility in Action?

(The original version of this article also includes examples of how Yoda and Han Solo embody other agile principles. You can find it here if your appetite for agile nerdiness has not yet been satiated.) 

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                                            Andrea Fryrear
About: 
Years ago I was leading content marketing for a SaaS company, and my team was drowning. We couldn't keep up with the agile software development team, and I was tired of running from fire to fire. I convinced my boss to let me transform our marketing team into a proper agile marketing team, and I've been hooked ever since.   
After I wrote and spoke about that first transformation, I quickly began fielding requests from my fellow marketers to help them do the same. Eventually I left brand-side employment to co-found AgileSherpas and work full-time to transform the way marketers everywhere get work done.   
 
Since AgileSherpas was founded in 2017 we've helped over 2,500 marketers at dozens of organizations to move from high stress to high performance. We offer certifications in Agile Marketing Fundamentals (ICP-MKG) and Agile Marketing Leadership (ICP-LEA), as well as organizational design consulting for marketing leaders who want to recreate their teams from the ground up. 
 
Our experienced coaches guide new agile marketing teams through the early days of their journey and train internal agile leaders to help the changes stick. More details on how we work with marketing organizations is available here: https://www.agilesherpas.com/training-services/  Most recently I've published my second book, Mastering Marketing Agility (masteringmarketingagility.com), which distills the learnings from 5 years of working with agile marketing teams into an entirely new framework called Rimarketing. The book shows you exactly how we implement this system with the teams we work with at AgileSherpas, offering a detailed roadmap for marketers looking for a better way to get things done.   
 
At this point I'm pretty much a professional agile marketing nerd, so if you're looking for someone to talk about marketing agility in any capacity, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'm an international keynote speaker and frequent webinar and podcast guest.

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