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How the Death Star Can Help You Avoid Business Failure

We can learn a lot from Star Wars. The difference between doing what is right and wrong; what it means to put others before yourself; how not to make a prequel trilogy; that sort of thing.

However, one thing I bet you didn’t think you could learn is how to avoid business failure.

The Death Star was a large and expensive project that turned out to be a colossal failure. While it wasn’t undertaken by a private company, the development and construction project draws a number of parallels to that of a business venture.

How the Death Star was a Business Failure

The Death Star cost a lot of money, even by intergalactic government standards. In this infographic from UK accountancy firm Russell Smith Chartered Accountants, we can explore how affordable the technological terror really was.

An infographic on buying a Death Star from a Chartered Accountant's point of view

The Galactic Tax Returns: How Tax Helped Build the Death Star [Infographic] infographic was brought to you by the team at Russell Smith Chartered Accountants.

As is plain to see, the Death Star was affordable in much the same way the Second World War was affordable. Built over twenty years, the total cost equates to 8.5% of total tax revenue per year. To put that in perspective, the cost of the UK’s nuclear defence project Trident is just 0.4% per year.

Imagine investing in nearly 21 Trident projects, only for all missiles to be destroyed within a year of completion. Investment failures don’t come bigger than the Death Star, but how can we learn from it?

Don’t Be Careless With Branding

When you think about it, the Death Star was an incredibly detrimental and careless piece of branding.

The Empire knew they had people moving against them; they knew the rebellion was fighting to destroy them. So, instead of branding themselves in a better light, instead of trying to suppress the rebellion through increased propaganda and improving public perception, they built a super, planet-destroying weapon designed to bring all those who moved against in line through fear.

Ultimately, their branding through fear brought about their demise.

They created a branding symbol so controversial that it was impossible to ignore. It also allowed others to focus in on one area of their organisation and cause untold damage; both to reputation and finance.

Let’s take a real-world scenario. In 2016, an unassuming mattress retailer came up with a new branding idea. They would offer to sell any of their king-sized mattresses at the price of a twin. Happening around September, they decided to name it the ‘Twin Tower sale’. I’m sure you can guess how that went.

So catastrophic was their branding fail, the backlash caused the store to permanently close.

If you are looking to avoid business failure, it is key that you pay attention to branding and take care not to create something so controversial — like a Death Star or an awful mattress sale — that it can unravel your plans. Being different, edgy or even slightly controversial might not be such a bad thing, as it can help you gain greater visibility and traction, but don’t do something that will inspire a great deal of hatred.

If the Empire hadn’t provided the rebels with a symbol like the Death Star to target, they’d have never had the chance to defeat them.

Don’t Fail to Access Risk (It’s Going Great Kid, But Don’t Get Cocky)

The Death Star wasn’t an immediate failure. It was, on the surface, a good idea that gained enough funding to get off the ground — quite literally. However, what brought it down was essentially a lack of risk assessment and a stern belief that the model was impenetrable. Don’t make the same mistake that Governor Tarkin made and underestimate the odds of things going wrong.

Risk assessment is important for businesses, but those who’ve been swept off their feet by interest, or those who are so entrenched in their position that they believe they aren’t susceptible to problems, often ignore the process.

Pets.com was a business that, like the Empire, failed to appropriately assess the risks involved in their venture, leading to the eventual loss of the entire organisation.

Pets.com was an online site set to storm the retail industry by offering pet food and accessories cheaply — like Amazon for dogs! It picked up hundreds of millions in investment from those who believed it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, once the site launched, they found that while investors were entranced by the idea, customers weren’t. They’d failed to assess the risk of launching without a strong consumer base and spent two years and $300 million trying to chase down a profit. After so much interest and potential, the site crumbled, taking all that money with it.

How can you learn from Pets.com and avoid business failure? Don’t assume your business model is bullet proof; no matter how long you’ve been running, no matter how much interest and investment you’ve gained.

Always be on the lookout for vulnerabilities in your business and projects. Learn how to properly risk assess your business, undergo assessments regularly and you should be well prepared for any pitfalls that could come your way — be it poor administration, improper market evaluation, or structural design in your new space station.

Don’t Repeat Your Mistakes

Albert Einstein is famously quoted as saying: “Insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results”.

So, you’ve had a failed project; a product launch, a service that didn’t make any money, or a giant super weapon that was destroyed by rebel scum. What do you do now?

What you don’t do is repeat the same mistake.

It is tempting, if you think you’ve had some sort of brainwave — a business epiphany — to pursue a failed project further. So, you invest more time in building it, making it bigger and better.

But a project that failed once is all but guaranteed to fail again. More planning and a bigger scale does not mean success a second time round. Just look at the second Death Star. It was larger, it had better defences, but the same problems occurred and the project was another failure; this time one that the organisation could not recover from.

Trying harder and thinking bigger, isn’t always the answer. If something fails, you shouldn’t give up, but you should change tactic. If the Empire hadn’t built another Death Star, the rebels wouldn’t have been able to defeat them like they did.
Avoid business failure and take a lesson from the Empire: don’t make the same mistake twice.

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