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Digital Transformation - The Star Wars Effect

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Digital Transformation - The Star Wars Effect

“My first six years in the business were hopeless. A lot of times I’d say, ‘Why am I doing this? I’ll...

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“My first six years in the business were hopeless. A lot of times I’d say, ‘Why am I doing this? I’ll never make it. It’s just not going to happen. I should go out and get a real job and try to survive.” George Lucas, Creator of Star Wars

Who would have ever imagined that the drones, robots, holograms, lasers, and many other special effects from Star Wars way back in 1977 would one day become reality? Even though it's been more than 30 years since Star Wars was first shown in theaters, the film continues to have a profound impact on the film industry and on people around the world. The film broke all box office records and won seven Academy awards. In fact, Star Wars and its creator, George Lucas, changed the filmmaking industry forever. In many ways, George was the Steve Jobs of movies; he knew that his imagination would become reality. There are four things that made Star Wars and George immensely successful:

  • New Age thinking. Before Star Wars, films were boring, unambitious even, repeating the same old drama. George challenged the underlying industry principle of making films and proved that imagination can come from anywhere and anyone, even from a galaxy far, far away.
  • Innovative business model. George’s decision to keep and merchandise the rights to Star Wars established the new business model for the industry. Star Wars was one of the first films to mass merchandise film-related products. He brewed New Age thinking needs with the New Age business model.
  • Blend of technology and imagination. No one ever bridged the gap between art and technology more successfully than George. He knew that there were limitations to bringing his vision to life, as many of the technology requirements didn’t even exist at the time. He took charge of creating the technology and founded the special effects company Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). He blended old movie-making techniques with state-of-the-art effects developed exclusively for the Star Wars films.
  • Trust of the people. While it’s certainly true that George was the key force behind Star Wars, he couldn’t translate his ambition into reality without a passionate team. George himself once said that he was able to make the film only because of the trust that his people had in him.

In many ways, Star Wars and George Lucas are symbols of today’s digital transformation phenomenon, i.e. creating an image of the future through the lens of the present. The fact is that many business leaders are starting to embrace the reality of digital transformation to avoid a “Kodak”-like moment for their businesses, and many are placing brand level bets. It is critical for global decision makers who are considering digital transformation to learn from the success of Star Wars and George Lucas:

  • Challenge the underlying industry principle of your business for the future. The winners in this new digital world will be companies that challenge their conventional thinking on product innovation, customer engagement, organizational structure, strategy, and business models. Ask yourself questions like “Why does the business need to be conducted as it has been for several decades?” For instance, “Why do banks need to have a physical infrastructure in place?” What if the physical infrastructure became entirely virtual? This belief gave birth to the concept of the all-digital bank, such as Atom, which will be operational soon. Don’t wait for startups to destroy your business value or for customers to change their demands. Start challenging your industry and business fundamentals to find innovation.
  • Digital means money so take the risk. Our upcoming thought leadership paper on The Future of Digital “Gold” in Asia highlights that more than 50% of companies are highly concerned about the risk of losing their traditional revenue streams because of digital. Digital is no longer a “bonus” channel for industries, but rather the most profitable path to their future. With its significant economic benefits to companies, unleashing the potential value of digital looks quite attractive vs. the current business model.
  • Experiment with disruptive technologies to find digital innovation. I highlighted in my recent blog post on why companies must get involved in new technologies (3D printing, robotics, Internet of Things, etc.) in the early phase of their disruption so that when they go mainstream, most (if not all) businesses can successfully ride that wave.
  • Improve the digital quotient of employees to execute the new vision. Companies need to become digital internally first if they want their customers to view the company as a digital innovator. The senior leadership needs to stop asking their teams just to “fix the problem” and instead ask them to “fix their digital quotient in order to fix the road to digital transformation.” The transformation will not happen if people are not ready. Learn from companies like DBS bank in Singapore, which is taking a different route to develop future-ready digital employees.

The lessons for digital transformation were actually seeded more than 30 years ago. I believe CEOs of traditional companies need to become and act like George Lucas with the vision, courage and appetite to take the risk for a Star Wars-like moment for their companies.


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