What we learnt from the alien attack

July 18, 2016

 

I take a light hearted look at the new Independance Day film and can see some lessons for business. 

 

I’m a fan of sci fi films.  As I sat in the cinema the other day watching the new Independance Day film marvelling at the CGI I began wondering, how come we always win when the aliens have superior firepower, better technology more numbers etc ? As I watch the plot unfold it occurs to me that there are some parallels with how successful businesses operate and some lessons for us all. Here are my thoughts.

 

Adapting and innovation   Remember Flemings accidental discovery of penicillin ? The first use of rocket engines to power a  weapon that ended up putting a human on our moon. The invention of radar to help with defense that modern air travel simply couldn’t function without. The electronics bungle that ended up as the heart pacemaker. I once worked in a company that started out with a product used in washing powder that ended up as a drug for patients with kidney disease. You have to hand it to humans we are brilliant at adapting existing knowledge to design new products. Adaption and innovation has been a key driver in economic expansion since the birth of the industrial revolution. In the film, humans use bits of technology from the first alien attack to make new craft and better weapons.

Planning  and preparation   Thorough planning is a prerequisite for business success. In the film humans had constructed outposts to give early warning of another attack and an Earth defence system or EDS.  They anticipated and planned for another attack. The planning was comprehensive, inclusive [ Earth not just one nation ] and most importantly dynamic, being flexible enough to cope with unpredictable events as the attack unfolded. Start up businesses especially need to have a plan that is stress tested using tools such as SWOT analysis. What are the implications for resources if results are worse or indeed better than expected. Has sensitivity analysis identified outcomes based on a range of options ? have the key performance indicators been identified. Has the reaction of the competition been considered?

Leadership and succession   perhaps unsurprisingly in the film American politicians take centre stage in leadership and decision roles but the approach is interesting. The decision on a first strike is taken by the US president but only in consultation with other world leaders. There is a resonance here  with the board of directors in a company. The leader has to motivate and inspire but also requires legitimacy that only comes through support from other key managers and employees. As a current example witness the current leadership turmoil in the UK Labour party. However the leader is not the organisation, he/she is replaceable, this turns out to be important  because in the film the leadership executive is pulled away to a secure centre, which the aliens correctly identify as a key target and destroy it. Is it game over ? ...Not a  chance, the humans have planned for this eventuality and quickly pass leadership and control to another centre. Effective succession planning. Also the structure becomes much flatter, now decions need to be taken more quickly as the battle develops. Businesses that depend heavily on the original founder who has strong leadership qualities but fails to delegate or mentor potential successors are partuclarly vulnerable if the leader becomes incapacitated. The aliens have an autocratic structure with a single leader, their whole command and control is tied in to this one being...take out the leader...in this case the queen  and it’s game over for them.

Effective teamwork    The very best way to have teams work effectively in your business is to ensure that everyone understands and buys in to the dream. Whatever the objective is in your business everyone has to believe they are playing an important role in moving towards the achievement of that objective. And crucially there has to be a benefit for them...that does not have to be extra money sometimes just being part of a happy motivated team is a reward in itself. We see this in sport all the time. As for the film, well flying one of those high tec fighters to take out the aliens who threaten ones own loved ones and friends or just being in the command centre directing fire or relaying information back to the fighter pilots. The objective is so clear, so powerful, so emotional. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that team. ! If you can replicate that in your business think what you could do.

Value the trusted advisor    Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner reanimate their earlier roles in the first film to bring a quirky technical advisor role to the drama. Goldblum in particular has two important facets to his character. Reputation and visibility. He is the premier brand trusted advisor. Reputation because Goldblum played a pivotal role in coming up with the idea to take down the invasion in the first film. Visibility because he has legacy relationships in the military which he uses [ commandeering a shuttle craft ] to get him close to the command centre. He also has an unwavering confidence in his ability to contribute to a solution. In the film Goldblum identifies the weakness in the alien attack, their autocratic ‘one being ‘ command structure. In the business world the trusted advisor can play two key roles. Firstly, contributing expertise. Business owners can’t know everything or do everything although many small business owners make the mistake of trying to. Buying in expertise is a cost but the value the expert brings is the benefit. Secondly, Perspective. Having someone who is not directly involved in the business but can relate to the owner on the same professional level brings impartiality that can be very useful in increasing perspective...taking a step back to re assess .

So I’ve answered my question, that’s why the humans prevailed against overwhelming odds. We adapted, we had a flexible well thought out plan...we prepared. We had an organisational structure that was decentralised so decisions could be made quickly. We had an effective, committed team  to execute our plans. Finally we had the right level of expertise. It was a winning combination.

 

If you are reading this article as a business owner think about your business in terms of some of the factors I’ve talked about, how does it measure up ? If your reading this as an alien commander, perhaps as HG Wells wrote viewing ' our earth with envious eyes’ ...well ..we’ll be waiting.

 

 

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