George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry have a lot in common. Both created masterpieces of entertainment set in outer space: Star Wars and Star Trek, respectively. The main difference between them is that one’s failures led to his success while the other’s successes led to his failure.
Gene Roddenberry’s “Failures”
Gene Roddenberry created a TV show called Star Trek in 1966, but it was canceled after just three seasons. A decade later, Roddenberry managed to get his show made into a feature film (thanks to the success of Lucas’s Star Wars) and, even though it made a lot of money, it wasn’t a very good movie. So he was mostly kept out of the sequels, which turned out to be much better than the original.
Instead of wallowing in his failure to make movies, Roddenberry returned to primetime television with Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. This new show earned much higher ratings than the original Star Trek show had, but only after his influence on the show waned in the third season. Ironically, Roddenberry’s creations were most successful when he kept his hands off them. He was smart enough to entrust essential operations to those who could do a better job than him.
George Lucas’s “Successes”
George Lucas created the first Star Wars film under incredibly difficult conditions. From writing the ambitious script to shooting in Tunisia and England to inventing new equipment for the special effects, each step was plagued with problems. Yet he created a nearly perfect movie out of all of that.
Lucas realized he wasn’t particularly suited to directing such epic films, so he passed off directing duties to Irvin Kershner, giving him a lot of creative control over the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Few people wanted to direct the Star Wars sequel because it would be a thankless job. If the movie failed, they would be blamed, but if it succeeded, Lucas would get most of the credit. Unfortunately, they turned out to be right. The sequel was a huge success, and Lucas made the mistake of taking credit for its success.
With his newfound confidence, Lucas micromanaged Return of the Jedi, preventing it from reaching its potential. Years later, after making Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Lucas could have realized his mistake and handed over creative control to a better filmmaker. But his success in the past convinced him he could do the job himself. So he went on to make two more movies that were financially successful, but which lacked almost everything that made the original films good. Lucas is financially successful, but a creative failure.
What Does This Have to Do with Anything?
At this point, if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’re probably thinking, “What has this got to do with running a business?” And if you’re a new visitor, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, now how is this guy going to shoehorn a business pitch into a Star Wars vs. Star Trek discussion?” To answer these two questions, a. specialization and b. very subtly.
Specialization Is Our Specialty
Business owners are usually passionate and knowledgeable about certain parts of their business, but not all. If you want to be successful, you need to emulate Roddenberry and shun Lucas. It’s tempting to think you’re right about everything or to take credit for others’ successes. But the real way to be successful is to realize you need others’ strengths. That way, you can all specialize and be more effective in what you’re good at doing.
Whether you struggle with accounting, information technology, inventory management, human resources or any other aspect of running a business, the important thing is to recognize your weaknesses so you can start to address them. You can either gain new skills or hire people who have the skills you need. You should find a balance between handling every task yourself and entrusting every task to employees.
Live Long and Prosper
George Lucas can’t coast on his brand name forever if he keeps churning out inferior products. No business owner can. By specializing in what you do well and leaving challenging tasks to the experts, you’re more likely to succeed despite your failures than to fail despite your successes.
May the driving force within your business help it live long and prosper!
The photo of George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry shaking hands is from Star Trek: The Official Fan Club Newsletter from 1987.