Weekender: J. J. Abrams on Knowing Your History

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Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, an Ewok-sized chunk of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just an Ewok (versus a Wookie)? Because it’s the weekend!

As leadersayswhat’s last article commemorating Star Wars Week (until we do it again in 2017 with Episode VIII), let me reiterate how excited I am to see Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3-D this weekend. I have high hopes—some might say a new hope—for this continuation of a story I’ve been following since I can remember following stories. As such, it seems appropriate to end the week with the man who is returning Star Wars to it’s former glory, the great J. J. Abrams.

In addition to his monumental work on Star Trek, Mission Impossible, and the TV show Lost (a personal favorite), Abrams directed and co-wrote the screenplay for the new Star Wars movie. Preparation for this project entailed a detailed analysis of the prior Episodes, some of which can provide leadership insights to benefit all of us. In a recent interview, Abrams stated:

As a fan of Star Wars, I can look at [Episodes I – VI] and both respect and love what they’ve done. But working on The Force Awakens, we’ve had to consider them in a slightly different context. For example, it’s very easy to love ‘I am your father.’ But when you think about how and when and where that came, I’m not sure that even Star Wars itself could have supported that story point had it existed in the first film, Episode IV. Meaning: It was a massively powerful, instantly classic moment in movie history, but it was only possible because it stood on the shoulders of the film that came before it.

How often do you consider the precursors to your initiatives? Especially as newer leaders, we spot an opportunity to improve something and we excitedly rush to get it out into the world, only to find that those within the organization do not accept or welcome our stroke of genius. A little research might have shown that what we considered helpful, was perceived as a re-tread of an unpopular past effort.

Don’t fall victim to the past. Conduct a deep dive into what’s been done before. Find the longer tenure employees to learn the history and perform some informal polling before launching new projects. Then you will be better prepared to build onto the culture in ways that are beneficial to your entire rebel alliance.

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