Enderpreneurship: What Andrew Wiggin Can Teach Us About Winning the Game of Entrepreneurship

This weekend’s release of the cinematic adaptation of Ender’s Game (and rereading the novel before going to see the movie) got me thinking about how many of Ender’s experiences can be translated into lessons on entrepreneurship. As I stated in my TEDx talk:

we can take MANY lessons on entrepreneurship from popular myths and I even singled out Ender’s Game in particular for one of those lessons:

Rereading the novel, I was inspired by many more such lessons; here are some of the first:

The Entrepreneurship “game” is exhausting, exhilarating, and profoundly impactful.

The battle room game, around which most of the novel is centered, is an excellent metaphor for the practice of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial development. There are many aspects to Battle School: classes, combat training, free time, dining, etc. but the games are what the boys live for. Entrepreneurship is itself a game with rewards and payoffs and penalties and skill and chance just like any other game. The best entrepreneurs live for the game and thrive when playing it.

Entrepreneurship must be developed experientially.

As Colonel Graff explains, though, the calculus of what makes someone succeed in the game is very poorly understood: choosing the right launchees is only so good because the tests are only so good; you’ve got to start putting them through the paces ASAP. And so it is with entrepreneurship, which cannot be taught in classrooms or learned in books; it must be developed experientially.

Strategic agility is crucial to a startup.

As in the battle room game, rapid experimentation, a willingness to fail, and a propensity for learning from failure is key to entrepreneurial success. Through Ender’s experimentation in the battle room, he accidentally discovers how to rebound off walls, which turns out to be a crucial tactic. He similarly learns that command-and-execute toon formations are too rigid and inflexible to beat an agile, innovative opponent. So it is with entrepreneurship. As Steve Blank is fond of saying, “Big companies execute known business models,” like toons executing formations, “while startups search for unknown business models,” like autonomous toons able to learn from their environment (market) and react to it. Ender also finds that he must constantly adapt and innovate his strategy to keep winning games – both in the battle room and against the Formics. So, too, with startups: yesterday’s winning strategy is today’s losing strategy.

Measure and optimize the right metrics.

Initially Ender’s individual battle room metrics are outstanding due to his limited participation. Once he becomes truly engaged in battles, those metrics go down. That’s OK because they are vanity metrics – like website hits, facebook likes, or any other metric that conveys a sense of success but doesn’t actually move the needle for your startup. The metric that counts for Ender – wins vs losses – keeps going up, up, up!

This is Part 1 of a three-part series. See Part 2 for more thoughts on Enderpreneurship.

Published by Bryan Guido Hassin

These are the musings of a global cleantech entrepreneur. This blog began as a way to document my experience during the IMD MBA in Switzerland and now is the place where I publish eclectic thoughts on business, politics, fitness, entertainment, travel, wine, sports, and . . . whatever else is top of mind.

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