Musings of a Magical Season

Pete Rose Blog

This weekend, my daughter’s youth softball team closed out a very successful season with a dominating performance in the post season tournament. After winning the regular season title with a 10-1 record, they rolled through the tournament, outscoring their opponents 46-10. They hit with authority, played rock solid defense, hustled around the bases, and dominated on the mound. It wasn’t merely impressive to watch… It was magical.

I am fortunate enough to be the head coach for this amazing group of girls, and have coached many of them for the four years that my daughter and I have been playing. We are blessed with committed and compassionate assistant coaches, encouraging and supportive parents, and most importantly a fun, hard-working, and good team of players. This tournament represented the pinnacle of the team’s performance, and they walked off the field with not just two trophies, but with swagger and pride.

As this magical season ends, I thought I should capture some of my “musings” as they relate to the diamond and beyond…

  1. Create a culture that nurtures, that supports, but that also challenges.  When coaching kids, it is critical that they have fun, that they develop a love of a game, and that they feel safe to learn and to fail.  But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t feel challenged… as kids get better and grow then they not only respond well to, but also hunger for, some challenge and growth.  Give them support but also help them push themselves to be better players and teammates.
  2. Practice makes Instinct.  This was one of those summers where we had more rain than sunshine, and more reschedules than practices.  We often had to sacrifice practices for games, and while the games are more fun and are a trial within themselves… they do not offer the same opportunity for repetitions, for coaching, and for new situations.  There is no such thing as perfection, but practice helps make things unnatural become instinctual and creates opportunities for future growth.  There’s never enough time to practice.  Make the time.
  3. Give every player a chance to shine.  Particularly in youth sports, the best player (and the “worst player”) on a team may vary wildly from season to season… or even from the start of the year to the finish. Far too often, a coach or parent can relegate a player to the bench too early, and never give them a chance for the “switch to flip” or for the “fire to ignite”.  Don’t give up on a player or anoint a superstar too early… give each and every player a chance to grow and to shine.
  4. You can be outplayed, outmatched, or out “skilled”… but never be out hustled.  “Hustle” was the theme of our season and it inspired how we ran the bases, how we took the field, and how we practiced.  In a given game, you can’t control the talent of the other team, the effectiveness of an umpire, or a slump of your own… but you can always, always, always out-hustle your opponent.
  5. Communicate and hold each other accountable.  As coaches, we learned early that we could shout instructions at our players on the field all day long, but it was only when they started talking to each other that true change happened.  Our defenders were responsible for knowing the situation, for determining the right play to be made, and for understanding what each other’s jobs were… and to communicate constantly to each other.  This held them accountable to themselves and to each other and created far better results.
  6. Winning isn’t everything… but it matters.  Yes… the primary mission of youth sports is to teach, to build sportsmanship, and to foster a love of the game.  That is true and always will be true and should supercede the results on the field.  That said, while wins and losses are not the most important thing in the long run… they are important.  Winning is fun and the effort required to consistently win actually exponentially grows the learning, camaraderie, and passion that we strive for as coaches.  We never want to get into a “win at all cost” pressure filled environment… but encouraging the kids to want to win and to want to work for it can be a valuable lesson for sports and for life.
  7. And they need to win for themselves… not for the coaches or for their parents.  Above all else, we need to insure we help them to win for themselves, and not for us.  As coaches, we take some pride in the team’s performance as well and it is easy to get caught up in our own ambitions and egos.  In our championship game today, all of our coaches were nervous… not because we were personally concerned about losing, but we wanted our kids to reach THEIR goal so intensely.  Help them want to win and to achieve their own ambitions… not to fulfill our own.
  8. Move from “swing to survive” to “swing with authority”.  This season was a turning point with our pitchers, our hitters, and our defenders, when we moved from “survival mode” to “attack mode”.  Evolving from a situation where we just hope to get the ball over the plate, to not strike out, or to make a lucky catch to a situation where we could intimidate batters, swing for extra base hits, and attack hard hit balls developed a confidence that step-changed the performance on the field and the joy in the dugout.
  9. Be serious but sassy.  The girls on the team proclaimed themselves as “sassy” from the start of the year, and would have made it part of their team name if their old, boring coach had allowed it.  Particularly for this group of kids, they wanted to work hard, to push themselves, and to fight… but to do so with a smirk, with a laugh, and with some spunk.  As as the season went on and their success grew, the sass grew into swagger.  They took themselves seriously but not TOO seriously, and played with passion, with confidence, and with perspective.  Work doesn’t have to feel like work, so be bold and enjoy the ride.

Closing this season, I am nothing but proud of the culmination of this team’s effort, their spirit, and their hustle.  I learned far more from them than they learned from me, and while I was thrilled for the championships and the trophies (and the Gatorade bath), I was most excited about the inherent hustle and heart that they brought each game.  I am blessed to have worked with such awesome kids, such dedicated coaches, and such encouraging parents…It has been a magical run and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

—————–

Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

 

Agents of CHANGE… Superhero Civil War

I would love to say that I was strategic in setting the launch date for my superhero-themed book, Agents of Change, right in the midst of some prime Superhero movie madness.  First, “Batman vs Superman” and now the release of “Captain America Civil War”… clearly I must have known what I was doing in picking this theme and in setting this date, right?  If only that were true… but I guess sometimes it truly is better to be lucky than good.  What I like about these new movies is that not only are they superhero themed, but that they particularly tell the tales of the tensions that superheroes face… both those heroes from the pages of comic books as well as those from real life.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”  As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben so wisely proclaimed, power does not come for free… it comes with a price.  I believe that for most of us, our greatest weaknesses come from an extension of our greatest strengths─ either exaggerated or abused.  And this isn’t just true for individuals, but for teams and organizations as well.  An individual may be able to “leap tall buildings with a single bound”, but also cause some collateral damage as she hits the ground.  A team might be loaded with super passionate individuals, but then become over run by fruitless and unrelenting debates.  An organization might promote a risk-taking culture, but punish individuals when a risk leads to consequences.  Or worse… in any of these situations, the super powers might be kept under wraps to avoid any negative side effects that might occur.

Much of what Agents of Change is about is recognizing these tensions and overcoming the obstacles to realize our full innovative potentials.  The following tensions represent some of the key challenges that exist in trying to unleash our superpowers and some of the equally super-charged conflicts that arise.

  • Perfect is the Enemy of Amazing.  To do something truly amazing requires pushing boundaries, taking risks, and a willingness to fail.  The demand for perfection, while potentially with super intentions, will limit the boldness needed for breakthrough. “The maxim ‘Nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘Paralysis’.” -Winston Churchill
  • A Culture of Empowerment in a World of Regulation.  Superheroes want to be free to change the world how they best see fit.  On one hand, the world wants to sit back and see that power unleashed; on the other hand, the world wants to control and stifle it.  “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” -Theodore Roosevelt
  • Lead through Serving.  We often think of Superheroes as “leaders”, standing heroically in front of the room primed to save the day.  While this may sometimes be true, often the most heroic individuals are quietly doing what needs to be done behind the scenes… fighting for good and not for glory.  “Servant-leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don’t work for you, you work for them.” ― Ken Blanchard
  • Discipline comes before Freedom.  We want instant freedom… to live as we want, to express our powers as we best see fit, and to control our own destinies.  But the foundation of freedom is discipline, as even superheroes need to eat their vegetables before having dessert. “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves? self-discipline with all of them came first.” Harry S. Truman
  • Operate out of a Purpose versus an Obligation.  While operating under a strong sense of duty is an admirable principle and can change the world, a person’s full potential cannot be unleashed without a strong sense of purpose.  It can sometimes feel selfish to focus first on your strengths and second on the world’s needs, but I believe that God gifted us our strengths for a reason and that our utilization of them will thus inherently enable a maximum impact.  “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.” ~Howard Thurman

5 Super Challenges

When striving to do something super, we will be assaulted with a series of challenges and tensions.  And these can cause an internal battle and civil war within ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.  We must know what powers that we have been given, have the discipline to develop them, serve others, and change the world.  If we can tap into that potential, our true superpowers can be unleashed.

Agents of Change is available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

Agents of CHANGE: The Book Awakens

May the Fourth Be with You.

On this Star Wars Day 2016, I have officially published my first book, Agents of Change, on Amazon.com.  While I am not sure that this event lives up to the epic Star Wars screen crawl, the John Williams soundtrack, and the “Jedi Master” title in my opening video, it is still a pretty exciting day for me.  When I started writing these blog posts, their intention was to serve as my Jedi training to build the discipline, the ideas, and the courage to transform this book-writing dream into a reality.  And now, three years later, complete it, I have.  Do or do not, there is not try.

And as I reflect on this journey, it is not unlike any other creative or innovative endeavor…

I) Dream big.  Before taking on any meaningful mission or adventure, it is important to have a dream and a vision for what you want to complete.  I knew that I loved to write and that I wanted to share some insights to make even a small impact on the lives of others.  I also knew that I wanted to personally hold my book in my hands, to show my aspiring author of a daughter that publishing a book is possible, and to delight my aspiring shopper of a son that my words could be bought on Amazon.  Being able to tangibly taste this dream before I ever started would help to drive me through all the ups and downs.

II) Find a mentor.  In all of my innovative projects in life, including this book, it has been important to have someone(s) who listens to me, who inspires me, and who holds me accountable along the way.  For those times when you doubt your dream, fear a failure, or are slow to start, this mentor can impart wisdom, encouragement, and a push to keep you going.  It is not only more difficult, but largely unnecessary to carry the “burden” of your dream alone… find someone who wants to help you succeed and bring them along for your adventure.

III) Take the First Step.  The first step is typically the hardest.  When your dream is just a dream, it is perfect.  It is exactly what you want it to be, there is no risk or disappointment, and it belongs solely to you.  As soon as this dream enters the real world, there are countless fears that can attack.  The fear of failure.  The fear of not finishing.  The fear of ridicule.  The fear of falling short.  The fear of letting others down.  These fears can make the activation energy to get started incredibly high.  At some point, you just need to get in the ship and start flying, share your first blog post, and put yourself out there. “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

IV) Experience success.  There is no better driver to keep marching forward than that first taste of success.  When one of my blog posts finally brought in thousands of readers from dozens of countries around the world, it was a huge boost of confidence to keep going.  Suddenly many of the doubts start to fade, some swagger enters your step, and completion of the mission actually seems attainable.  You can start to believe that anything is possible, and go forward with more energy, more courage, and more faith than ever before.  When you blow up that Death Star, you start to feel like a hero and can start moving forward quickly believing that you can not only realize your dream… that you might even exceed it.

V) Experience Failure.  “Don’t get cocky, kid”.  Rushing fearlessly ahead, a lot of progress can be made and a lot of amazing accomplishments can be realized.  But ultimately, as your willingness to take the risks and to push the envelope increases, the possibility of failure awakens as well.  It may be merely because you push too far or it may be because you get reckless, but experiencing some failure is inevitable if you ultimately work to take your dream as far as it can go.  And while you don’t want to lose an arm, this failure is ultimately a good and necessary step in maximizing the creative process.  After I experienced my first blogging success, and my then potential future as a best selling author started to paint itself in my mind, I had a series of mediocre and unheralded posts to knock me down a notch or two.  While discouraging, these helped me to refocus and to get clearer and crisper on what the finished product should be.

VI) Face your demons and finish.  Armed with some successes and some failures, it can become very difficult to know how to best complete the work.  You now know not only the original dream, but also the extreme highs and the extreme lows that surround it.  The excitement for the thrill of completing the race can be real and exhilarating, but the fear of failure and falling short can be terrifying.  The final product is ultimately a sum of your original dream, all of your trials and tribulations, and your successes and failures.  Finishing means accepting all of the good and all of the bad, making the compromises and enhancements to the original idea, and appreciating that the final product will be different than the original dream.  For me, while this book holds many of the ideas and the concepts that I had from the start, the content, the flow, and even the title has changed significantly.  At some point, you need to accept that it will never be perfect… but that it can be amazing if you step forward, take a risk, and finish.

VII) Stop and reflect.  When all is said and done, it is important to take some time to reflect on the entire process.  What went well, what didn’t, and what do you want to do next?  As I finish this book, I am proud of completing the journey and cognizant that the ride wasn’t as smooth as it could have been.  I am happy to share this with my family and friends, yet still nervous that it won’t be well received.  I am at peace that the sheer act of publishing completes my dream, but still irrationally concerned that no one will buy it.  While I want to enjoy the moment and to be fully present in launching this book, I also am anxious to face the future and to start the next adventure.  And as I stand alone and look at the oceans of possibility around me, I try to appreciate the past that led me here, to enjoy and appreciate the moment, and to still allow myself the time to dream of the future.

For any hero’s journey, these steps of dreaming, learning, stepping forward, succeeding, failing, finishing, and reflecting are critical steps in the process.  As I complete Agents of Change, I do so confident that it met my own intent of providing a divergent collection of insights, parables, and fables to help unleash the innovation of real life superheroes.  And while it is far from perfect, and will not make me rich and famous, I am proud that I took these steps and translated my mind’s dream into the world’s reality.  And I encourage each of you to identify a dream, however impossible or improbable it might seem, and take steps to make it real.  Awaken your dreams and May the Force be with You.

Book Writing Lessons from an 8-Year Old Black Belt

This past week I published my first book, Agents of Changeafter 3 years of blogging, brainstorming, and editing.  Normally, this accomplishment would be enough to at least get me the front page headline in the “family newspaper”.  However, in this same week, my 8-year old son Aaron successfully reached the level of Temporary Black Belt in taekwondo and rightfully stole my headline.  Little jerk.

Aaron successfully passed his final test and completed his own almost 3 year mission of training, learning, and refining his skills.  And while there are a lot of commonalities in our journeys, his method led to a far more deliberate and steady path than mine.  Where I had a vague vision, a strong passion, and an inconsistent approach of spurts and fits, Aaron marched forward with a clear mission, a strong will, and a steady commitment.  He wrote the book on how to successfully achieve his dream of becoming a black belt, while I stumbled haphazardly toward writing a book.  And as I reflect back on our paths, I have learned a lot from him that I can take forward as I eventually start my next chapter.

  1. Know the ending before you start writing.  From the moment Aaron took his first taekwondo class, he knew that he was going to be a black belt.  He was clear that he wanted to learn all of the skills, to stand among the black belts, and to ultimately help teach less experienced students how to improve.  Pretty ambitious for a 5 year old.  He knew what he wanted his cover to portray, how each chapter should go, and how he wanted the story to end… from the start.
  2. Dedicate consistent and focused time to making progress toward the goal.  Taekwondo requires much discipline, a commitment to consistent training, and the vigilance to keep learning new skills and refining techniques.  Month after month, Aaron spent two evenings a week formally working in class and also consistently invested time at home to further practice and grow.  Even amidst school, play, sports, and all the goof ball things an 8-year old should be doing, he held onto his goal and kept the rigor to allocate the time.
  3. Take risks and publically put yourself to the test.  One of the biggest hurdles that Aaron had to overcome was the fear of failure in a very public setting.  In front of judges, fellow students, and hundreds of parents, he had to perform and to put himself in front of the audience for all to see.  And when he took a misstep, he had to decide to push through his discouragement and his fear and to keep marching forward.  With success would come much pride, but with failure would come embarrassment and disappointment, and he had to decide that the risks were worth the rewards.

I have never been prouder of my son, who, at 8-years old, has accomplished something that I could never do.  And he did so with a commitment, a discipline, and a courage that enabled him to craft the pages of the Black Belt book of his dreams.

Looking back… where I struggled in writing my book was in not having a clear grasp from the start on what I wanted the final product to be (I changed the title weeks just weeks before publication!), in not consistently investing time to writing, and in not quite being brave enough to risk putting my completed work out there for all to see.  Looking forward… when I eventually (i.e. when my wife lets me) start writing the next one, I plan to better instigate these “Black Belt” principles.  I am still proud of the Agents of Change destination… I can next time just improve upon the journey.

Agents of Change is available in paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.

Agents of CHANGE: From Blog to Book

When I started this blog 3 years ago, my plan was to use these posts and articles as fodder that could be eventually turned into a book.  And while I call it a “plan”, it was really more of a wish.  I began with a post on Empowerment, and have since taken a long and winding road through my work, through my life, through my head, and through my heart. What started as a pretty straightforward focus on innovation in the workplace, ultimately veered toward my kids’ activities, flew up, up, and away with Superheroes, traveled to a galaxy far, far away, and delved into personal fables and adventures.  And while my life became a stronger muse for this blog than I had expected, this blog ultimately made a larger impact on my life. Career decisions that I’ve made, the sabbatical moments that I’ve stolen, my priorities in how I spend my time, and the path I now am starting to see before me all have been heavily influenced by many of the words I didn’t even know that I needed to write.

And as the writing led me on this journey, I am grateful for each of you who have joined me along the road.  Some of you have been here from the beginning, some joined near the end, and many of you have passed in and out along the way.  I know many of you personally, either from my present or from my past, and have been fortunate to virtually interact with countless others from dozens of countries around the globe.   I hope that something that I have written has left even a small impact… you all have made a huge difference to me.

And now I am fortunate to have finally turned this blog into my first book, Agents of CHANGE, which I have self-published on Amazon.  It is not perfect by any stretch, and it will never be a best seller… but I am proud of how it all came together to represent that long and winding road I’ve taken.  This book sets out to deliver a  collection of snackable stories, examples, and fables that provide ideas and insights for creating a super powered innovation program, organizational culture, and purposeful life… to help you to unleash your inner superhero and to become an Agent of Change.  I am hopeful that it will fulfill that promise.

The Kindle version is now available for pre-order with a publication day, of course, on Star Wars Day (May the 4th), and the print version is actually available now as part of a “soft grand opening”.  As this launches, I am filled with a mix of pride at the accomplishment, nervousness at the reception, relief to be at the end of the journey, and anticipation for what comes next.  But most of all, I am thankful for all of you who have been such a big part of this.

Thanks you for your support, your inspiration, and your imagination… and for helping Agents of CHANGE to go from Blog to Book.

Agents of Change can be purchased on Kindle (here) or Paperback (here) from Amazon.com

Navigating the TRAFFIC JAM of Life and Work

Career Detour.png

You are cruising along the highway, anxiously waiting to reach your destination.  You filled the tank up with gas, plotted the most efficient course, and hit the road right on schedule.  You found the fast lane and are starting to think that you might even arrive early.  As your mind wanders to all of the excitement that you will find once you fulfill this mission, you see the brake lights starting to illuminate the road ahead.  What starts as a slowing parade of cars, quickly transforms into a parking lot.  You are stopped and there is nothing that you can do about it.  At first, you sit calmly and you optimistically expect this dam of traffic to burst quickly and get you back onto your fast track.  But as the time passes, you start doing the math and realize that you are going to arrive later than you planned.  With this realization, you begin to get antsy and periodically steer your car into the median in an effort to see the source of this unplanned pause.  If you can understand the root cause, maybe somehow you can figure out a way to get past it.  When that doesn’t work, you put your car in park and step out to get a better look.  You walk several paces forward in a hope to make some progress, but all you see is a seemingly infinite row of cars in the same predicament.  You go back to your own car, and impatiently fidget with your phone in an attempt to acquire any piece of information that might help you get back on track.

At this point, you are later than you ever imagined, and when the cars start to move ever so slowly forward, it almost makes you more nervous than when you were sitting still.  You begin to worry that you won’t have enough gas to complete this journey and start wondering whether or not to look for an exit.  Do you stay the course in the hope that the traffic jam will break, and that, even late, you can complete your original plan? Or do you find an exit, refuel, and maybe even look for a detour?

As you sit there with your anxiety rising and your patience fading, you start to weigh the options.  An obvious approach is to just wait it out, knowing logically that whatever is causing this delay will eventually pass.  This plan is somewhat reassuring in that at least the path is mapped out and known… but the inability to control the pace is a maddening prospect.  If you choose this option, one thing you need to promise yourself is that you don’t just sit there festering in your unhappiness.  If you are going to white knuckle your steering wheel, honk your horn, or be overcome with road rage, then you really need to get off the road.  If, however, you can accept that this is out of your control and that you just need to make the most out of an unfortunate situation, then turn up the radio, open the sunroof, and enjoy the unexpected pause to relax and belt out a song.

Another option is to pull off the highway for a few minutes, to refuel, and to take a breath of fresh air.  A short sabbatical from the road might cost you a little time in the short-term, but the mental break can be an investment in your longer-term physical and psychological health.  This approach lets you stick to the course you charted with the assurance that you will eventually reach your destination… you would just need to decide if the momentary reward of refreshment is worth a small delay on an already irreparably slowed trip.

Yet another possibility is to pull of the road and find a scenic route to your destination.  The thought of a totally new route has the allure of an exciting new adventure, but also the anxiety of potentially getting lost along the way.  While it might not be a direct path, maybe you will see some new sights, meet some interesting people, or stumble across the world’s largest ball of twine.  Clearly your path will have several new twists and turns that you didn’t anticipate, but maybe the excitement of the journey will be even more fulfilling than arriving at your destination.

Finally, your last potential option is to chart a course to a new destination.  Maybe as you sit in traffic you realize that you were less excited about your original goal than you thought, and what you really like is just driving fast.  Or maybe you’ve been concentrating on the road so intently, that you never had the time to really think through whether or not this was the best ultimate destination for you.  Is there someplace better out there that you’d rather go, and have you just been too busy driving to realize it?  Has your tunnel vision on this one specific plan caused you to irrationally pursue it, so that you are too worried about fulfilling your goal when you should be determining if it was the right goal in the first place?  Are you truly moving toward something new, or are you merely fleeing something old?

The traffic jam is real and there is nothing you can do to fix it.  As you look at all of the drivers around you, you see countless people struggling with the same choices that you are facing.  As you hear the horns start to blare and see the frustration mount nearby, you reaffirm to yourself that letting yourself get overrun with anger is an unacceptable scenario.  And whether you choose to wait it out, to refuel, to take the scenic route, or to pick a new destination, you must fully embrace the choice and go forward with purpose.  And do your best to enjoy the journey.

—————–

Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

Lessons from STAR WARS to AWAKEN INNOVATION

Rey Blog

Those who know me are well aware that I have an almost unhealthy obsession with Star Wars.  From the moment that Disney announced their purchase of the franchise from George Lucas, I counted down the days until Episode 7 would be released.  I grew up with the original trilogy and spent a good portion of my childhood as Luke Skywalker─ and I never really outgrew my Jedi aspirations.  So attending The Force Awakens on opening night with my kids, my wife, and my brother was destined to be a sacred event for me… and the movie did not disappoint.  J.J. Abrams and his Disney team managed to evoke the childhood nostalgia for which I had been yearning, to provide a brand new experience and adventure in the theater, and to fill me with significant anticipation for Episodes 8 and 9.  It was exactly what I had hoped for and more.

Disney’s ability to exceed the fans’ and the critics’ expectations is especially impressive given the overall displeasure with the prequel trilogy (with Jar Jar Binks) that came between the original masterpiece and this new one.  While the prequels were still largely successful at the box office, they were generally a disappointment not only in failing to deliver a story that satisfied fans, but also in creating the epic Star Wars experience in the theater.  To be fair, there were some strong performances, interesting new elements, and exciting effects… but holistically, these movies failed to strike all the right chords and fell far short of the magic of the original trilogy.

So what did Disney get right, with what is essentially a brand restage, that the preceding prequel trilogy got wrong?  And as innovators, what can we learn from these lessons that we can reapply to our own programs, teams, and lives?

  • First story, then technology. The Star Wars universe has always been a magical blend of an epic adventure story, fascinatingly heroic characters, and breakthrough special effects.  All of these pieces are important, and a Star Wars movie would not work with any of these aspects missing.  What the original trilogy got right was to focus on wrapping the audience in an awe-inspiring adventure that was appropriately supported by unique and superior special effects.  When George Lucas delivered the subsequent prequel movies, his love for technological effects were front and center… but his story was lacking.  He delivered the stylistic design elements of a breakthrough space saga, but failed to provide the substance.  When J.J. Abrams took on The Force Awakens, Disney did what Disney does best and again focused first on nailing the experiential story and only then used the technology to deliver the right look and feel.  The technology is important, but it must remain secondary to a compelling, heart opening story.
  • Know your loyal audience, and don’t “dumb down” your product for younger consumers. Star Wars has been a cultural phenomenon for almost 40 years, and now has multiple generations of loyal and even obsessed fans. For a brand to stand the test of time, it must not only delight its existing fans, but bring new consumers into the franchise as well. The prequel trilogy attempted to do this via both comic relief, with characters such as the epically annoying Jar Jar Binks, as well as child versions of legendary villains like Darth Vader and Boba Fett.  These characters, teamed with some juvenile humor and goofy scenes, may have generated some laughs for the younger fans, but were cringe-worthy for the majority of the audience.  Contrast this with The Force Awakens, where Disney also infused youth into the franchise, but in a way that didn’t alienate the loyal, demanding fans.  New, diverse characters were developed who brought a youthful and fresh energy to the show, but built off of the existing equity for the broader Star Wars experience.  Disney didn’t change the essence of Star Wars to delight the next generation of fans─ they instead added some new twists that built off of a foundation that has worked for generations.
  • Leverage your iconic assets and deliver a holistic experience. When I walked out of that theater on opening night, beyond just being impressed by the story, feeling anxious for the next chapter, and replaying the key sequences in my mind… I just felt awesome.  For the first time in over 30 years, I left feeling that same childlike wonder that the original Star Wars movies had provided.  It wasn’t just a good product─ it was an amazing experience.  J.J. Abrams and his team took time to not only understand the key functional elements that fans wanted to see, but also the experiential ones that the fans yearned to feel.  Touching moments with legendary heroes like Han Solo, Princess/General Leia, and Luke Skywalker.  Classic icons like the Millennium Falcon, C-3PO, and R2-D2.  The brilliant John Williams soundtrack and live action special effects.  Disney didn’t just understand the physical elements to make this movie work for fans… they understood the emotional ones as well, and delivered an experience that satisfied its audience in mind, heart, and soul. 
  • Don’t explain all of the magic.  One of the most amazing elements of the original 1977 Star Wars adventure was the unexplained nature of the Force.  Luke Skywalker’s mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi attempted to explain this mythical power by saying, “…the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”   This Force could only be wielded by a select few individuals and enabled powers like super human agility, Jedi mind tricks, and an ability to commune with spirits from the past.  It is never really explained how this works or why certain individuals are chosen, but this magical, spiritual mystery creates part of the aura and mystique that made the movie so compelling.  When George Lucas later brought the prequel trilogy to life, he made the choice to provide a biological explanation for this once mystical Force.  Midichlorians were defined as some sort of microorganisms found in all living things but in a higher concentration among Jedis─ more like a performance enhancing drug than a mythical power.  While he gave the audience a reasonable scientific explanation, he managed to destroy what had until then been purely magical.  With the Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams went back to the mystical Force qualities, and thus brought back the mystery and mysticism of the original films.  Audiences love a little magic, and the best magic doesn’t need a worldly explanation.
  • Never compromise quality for timing. No matter the endeavor, there is always pressure to get products to market at a lightspeed pace.  Case in point, executives at Disney initially targeted a May 2015 launch for The Force Awakens, putting a lot of pressure on the team to quickly get a winning movie to market.  Ultimately, Abrams and his team convinced Disney to postpone the release date to December of 2015 to insure that they could not just deliver a good movie, but an outstanding one.  I have no doubt that it was a painful decision for Disney to delay, but ultimately one that they did make so as to maximize the team’s ability to deliver the highest quality product.  While a painful decision in the moment, today they are reaping the rewards of one of the most successful movies of all time.  Years from now, when they look back on the epic success that this movie yielded, there will not even be a semblance of a memory of the angst that resulted from a 7 month delay.  When creating something magical, it is far more important to get it right than to get it fast.

When Disney took over the Star Wars franchise, it is clear that they made it their mission to deeply understand what drove a four decade long love affair with the science fiction saga.  They managed to rekindle the magical experience of the originals, delight the most passionate of their loyal followers, and create a new generation of Jedi fans.  And while some critics have alleged that the new movie was too much of a reboot of the originals and not enough of a new twist, Disney understood that this was exactly what the franchise needed to kick off this next era.  After the prequel “brand restage” missed the mark, Disney went back to what worked and thus helped Star Wars return to its original glory.  I am fascinated to see where they go next with the saga, and how they manage to maintain yet evolve the Star Wars equity.  And their story has already become a fascinating case study for how to restage a brand, and to provide new innovation that furthers a story that works.

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com