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This is the way: Mindset and innovation lessons from the Mandalorian

Mandalorian mask set against space backdrop

Editor’s note: Spoilers ahead.

When you build teams for innovation, you need a wide range of skills. You know you will create something new, but the details are so uncertain you never know which skills and tools you’ll need to make it through the journey.

At UPS, we try to create teams that can comfortably incorporate skills in design, analysis, engineering and entrepreneurship in many spaces (or even in outer space).

Sometimes the goal of the project is vague, the possibilities unclear. Who will buy it? Who will try to kill the project or you (figuratively speaking, of course)?

So, the best innovators always carry with them three critical mindsets: resiliency, curiosity and creativity.

We see all of these traits from our new Star Wars hero, the bounty hunter known as the Mandalorian in the Disney Plus show. Let’s take a closer look at the mindset lessons on display in the outer reaches of the galaxy.

The Mandalorian shows resiliency, again and again — and again.

His allies betray him, his ship gets shot down and a Mudhorn tosses him around. But he always gets back up, brushes himself off and keeps moving forward.

If our hero gives up in the face of setbacks, it’s a short show. Likewise, when building new products, services or experiences, you will get it wrong sometimes. Sometimes embarrassingly wrong. The key is to learn from each mistake and make the next effort better.

The old adage of gunslingers is shoot first, ask questions later. But for the bounty hunter and an innovation leader — you ask questions first. Lots of them.

The Mandalorian is occasionally holding a blaster while asking questions … but still, asking questions first.

When you are on an unfamiliar planet (or in an unfamiliar market) with bizarre creatures and trying to reach a goal with scant clues, asking questions is key to success (and survival).

In one episode, we see the Mandalorian pull the arm off a security droid and use that detached arm to unlock a door. Later, he repurposes a control knob from his ship as a toy for “the child” — the one and only, Baby Yoda.

Creativity is not always about composing something from nothing. Often it’s about finding a new use from something already available.

So, the way of the innovator starts with mindset. But we can also learn innovation lessons from the bounty hunter.

Here are four key lessons we can borrow for modern corporate innovation.

1. Better armor yields measured risk.

Innovation (and bounty hunting) can be dangerous work. By nature, you’re doing something unfamiliar and unpredictable.

In corporate environments, we need sponsorship and structure for measured failures. The Mandalorian needs his beskar armor — it helps him survive a dangerous situation even if he misjudges the risk.

Protection mechanisms are critical for teams stepping around corners into unknown spaces. If you die with any small miscalculation, you can’t afford to take any risks — and you will never have a breakthrough moment.

2. Diverse skills offset surprises.

In the first few episodes, we see that our hero speaks many languages. He can also drive many kinds of vehicles and carry around five weapons at a time.

The Mandalorian deploys a grappling hook and flame thrower in specific situations — as innovation leaders we can think about the talents on our teams as different weapons suited for different challenges. If your team can do 20 different types of projects reasonably well, it can handle surprises.

In the first season, we see the evolution of a bounty hunter droid from hired killer to devoted nurse.  Same robot, different training. Much the same way, people grow and learn — and when you give them the chance to reinvent themselves, it can surprise everyone in a good way.

3. It will “go wrong.”

Something can always go wrong — just ask our favorite bounty hunter. When you ignore that universal truth, you set yourself up for failure.

The key in innovation is to plan for “good failures.” Bad failures cause downstream operational breakdowns and frustrate customers.

Good failures are quickly contained and easily reversed. Plan for small experiments that prove your hypothesis, and provide evidence before racing toward scale. You never know when a flock of bat dragons will fly down and destroy your camp.

4. Just keep going.

The journey of the Mandalorian is just starting. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the show is that our protagonist, a masterfully trained warrior with a galactic reputation, is constantly making mistakes.

After he finds his ship ransacked by Jawas, the Mandalorian jumps on to their massive land ship and desperately looks for a way to recover.

He doesn’t exactly have a plan, but he understands that in this case, inaction is more dangerous than failure. Even if he fails at his first attempt, he at least stays close to the problem and gets a little smarter.

Embracing innovation

In some ways, the launch of Disney Plus carries the spirit of the Mandalorian. It’s not often that a team launches a worldwide global platform to tens of millions of users at once.

There were certainly problems. But the team took stock of the situation, addressed the most important unknowns, applied a wide range of tools and kept going.

This is the way we can all embrace a spirit of innovation — whether in business or in a galaxy far, far away.

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

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