The Luke Skywalker/Harry Potter Strategems

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I found myself thinking about the many similarities between billion-dollar-generating protagonists Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter recently (actually, it was one of the more productive ways to spend the free time with which I suddenly found myself, after setting aside time for March Madness, only to see my beloved University of New Mexico Lobos make an unexpectedly early exit). Consider:

·         Both are orphans, with mothers who had been renowned for their beauty,

·         and have been living with an Aunt and an Uncle, in an out-of-the-way place in order to hide them.

·         They both have an amazing talent, but, early on, are unaware they have it,

·         but the Aunt/Uncle are aware of it, and hope the boys do not grow up to be like their fathers.

·         An encounter with their eventual mentors reveals this talent, and who they really are in the stories’ larger conflict.

·         Both are pursued from birth by the story’s antagonists,

·         who are aware that the boys are somehow destined to thwart their evil intentions.

·         Both Luke and Harry have friends, but their primary ones are one man and one woman.

·         Early in the stories, it looks as if Luke/Harry will become romantically involved with their primary female friend,

·         but their primary female friend and primary male friend end up having the romantic relationship instead, and both Luke and Harry are okay with this.

·         Both Luke and Harry engage in one-on-one combat with their main antagonists, but the first encounter does not end decisively.

·         The second one-on-one encounter occurs while a much larger conflict is going on in the background, and ends with the protagonists victorious.

A review of the story’s antagonists reveals even more striking similarities:

·         Both Darth Vader and Voldemort have unusual appearances, having been on the losing end of a conflict prior to the timeframe of the telling of Luke’s and Harry’s stories.

·         They both dress in black, head-to-foot,

·         and have the unfortunate tendency to taunt their opponents during combat.

·         Both Vader and Voldemort have murdered underlings who disappointed them, and in a most casual manner.

·         Both story’s antagonists have battled Luke/Harry’s mentors, and lost, but somehow escaped capture,

·         but would go on to kill the mentors (although Voldemort does this indirectly, via Snape [see below]).

And, if you take into account the expanded list of antagonists (Emperor Palpatine and Snape), the list of similarities becomes even longer:

·         All four antagonists dress in black, head to foot.

·         The lower-ranked antagonists (Vader, Snape) are believed to have the potential to be on the right side of the conflict by Luke/Harry,

·         which, indeed, they are, but it is not revealed until Vader/Snape betray Palpatine/Voldemort.

Now, is this to say that Star Wars and its sequels represent the same story as Harry Potter, and its sequels? With such a long list of exact similarities, it might seem to the casual book/movie consumer that only the settings have changed.  And yet, I am wholly unaware of any attempts by George Lucas to file a plagiarism claim against J. K. Rowling (maybe it’s one of those “unintentional plagiarism” things, like George Harrison and “He’s So Fine”). Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying such a claim should be forthcoming. I’m just noting how both stories’ plots appear to assume a remarkably similar, almost formulaic, arc.

By now, my regular readers are probably wondering “what on Earth does this have to do with project management?” It’s natural for us to try to recreate the conditions and environs that have led to success in the past in our current situations and projects, and to avoid those conditions we associate with past failures. However, this tendency needs to be recognized for what it is: an ossifying element that prevents us from adapting novel technical approaches to our project management problems. In larger organizations especially, there can be a standardization of approach to implementing project management techniques, and these approaches can become so formulaic that they morph into a rigid orthodoxy. And, by the time that sets in, the chances of your organization bringing in projects successfully – particularly and especially projects dealing with new technologies or situations – have just dropped precipitously.

In short, stop pointing your wands and exclaiming “Expecto Success Stategerium!”

Posted on: March 24, 2013 05:40 PM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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So we need the skill and experience to recognise the similarities *and* the differences between projects. Then the hard part is to recognise opportunities (and have the confidence) to do things differently when the opportunity presents. But how? Especially when an organisation (as you point out) has a fairly rigid 'framework'. Does it just come down to experience and a willingness to learn and explore?

Well, for the answers to those questions, you will need to buy my recently-released, mut-have book, Game Theory in Management ( Or, you can stay tuned in to this blog, and wait for me to reveal the answers piecemeanl.

By the way, Ashleigh, you may have set the record for responding to one of my blog posts. I only put this up a few hours ago.

Best regards,

Michael Hatfield

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