Enderpreneurship Part 3

This is my third and final post in my series on Entrepreneurship lessons from Ender’s Game. For the previous posts, see Part 1 and Part 2.

Lead a startup the way Ender leads Dragon Army.
A startup is very much like Ender’s Dragon Army: newly formed, constantly learning, and searching for patterns that work in a complex, rapidly changing environment. Ender’s Game provides many examples of poor leadership in this circumstance, most especially that of Bonzo Madrid. Bonzo uses bullying and command-and-control to lead his Salamander Army. Ender senses the suboptimality in this approach immediately, noting that a good commander doesn’t need to make stupid threats. Dink reinforces it when he posits that commanders have just as much authority as you let them have. Ultimately Bonzo’s “orders are orders; obey or die” style leads to unnecessary losses when Ender is prohibited from firing. His fiery temper not only gets in the way of rational decision-making, it ultimately gets him killed.

Ender’s leadership style is much softer and it would be an oversimplification to claim that it is the “right” or “best” style for every situation. However, it clearly works in he novel and I have seen similar styles be very effective in the startup environment. Ender’s leadership journey begins before he is ever given formal authority, as soon as he starts the free time practice sessions. In these, Ender leads by example (As founders must – there is no cushy corner office in a startup!) and by inclusion (Founders must be open to ideas from their employees.).

As Ender gets his own army, he exemplifies the leadership skills of trust and empowerment. He trains his teammates, and especially the toon leaders, to think on their own and gives them the authority to make the best decisions in the heat of the moment in the battle room. This is most evident with Bean, whom he trusts to innovate completely new battle tactics. Startup founders who try to hold onto too much control find themselves as bottlenecks stifling innovation and forward progress. The best startup founders hire people whom they believe to be better than they are, co-create clear visions with them, and let them work the way they best see fit. Additionally, Ender shares his vulnerability with Bean; the best startup leaders know how to share not only their confidence and optimism but also their fears sometimes – it makes them more human.

Perhaps most importantly, Ender realizes as he grows from practice session leader to army commander to admiral of the entire IF fleet that a different leadership style is needed in each scenario. It is also true that the same leadership qualities that help a leader get from nothing to a small startup are usually different than those necessary to get from a small startup to a thriving, expanding business. One of a startup leader’s greatest assets is adaptability to these changing circumstances – and awareness to know when and how to adapt.

Empathy is a critical skill for entrepreneurs.
Ender’s greatest “weapon” by far is his empathy. His empathy for opponents helps him find ways to beat them – and ultimately resurrect them, in the case of the Formics – while his empathy for peers helps him lead them more skillfully. Entrepreneurship is a constant exercise in understanding people so empathy is incredibly valuable for ascertaining client needs, working well with teammates, inspiring people to join your team in the first place, negotiating with business partners, and staying one step ahead of your competition.

Luck plays a strong role in entrepreneurship.
This final lesson is isn’t from the content of the book so much as it is from the book itself. Ender’s Game is a phenomenal novel so it is easy to assume that Orson Scott Card is an amazing author. However, 30 years after Ender’s Game he still hasn’t produced anything of remotely that caliber again. The Shadow series was pretty good but all the rest of the Enderverse offerings range from so-so to downright bad.

This happens in entrepreneurship as well: sometimes people are just in the right place at the right time and they succeed in spite of – rather than because of – themselves. Similarly, sometimes people do everything right and it still doesn’t work out for them. Orson Scott Card may not be that great of an author; he may have just kind of “lucked out” with Ender’s Game. However, he would never have had the chance to luck out that way if he hadn’t picked up his [metaphorical] pen and given it a go. And so it is with entrepreneurship: you can’t hit it out of the park without stepping up to the plate and taking a swing. Luck plays a strong role in entrepreneurship but you’ve got to put yourself in positions to take advantage of it.

These were the entrepreneurship messages that resonated with me from Ender’s Game. What do you think? Best of luck to all the budding entrepreneurs out there and remember, the enemy’s gate is down!

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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