Just In: 10 Business Lessons From 'Battlestar Galactica'

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Robert Strohmeyer, PC World
PC World
Tuesday, March 24, 2009; 12:19 AM

You think your business has it rough? The people of Battlestar Galactica have lived through a recession you wouldn't believe. With dwindling resources, a skeleton crew, enemies constantly lurking out of view, and a pervasive threat of annihilation, Admiral Adama navigates the vast unknown. Like any leader, he makes his share of mistakes--sometimes with devastating consequences. But regardless of the fate of that ragtag fleet, the tale of Galactica is rife with lessons that can benefit any business leader.

1. Tech isn't always the answer.

In the premiere episode, the Cylons took out the entire human battle fleet by exploiting a weakness in the computer network. Only the Galactica survived, because its network was offline. The takeaway? Overdependence on technology can be your downfall.

2. Don't neglect training.

In episode 4 of season 1, an explosion on the hangar deck wiped out many of Galactica's top pilots, forcing Starbuck to begin training new pilots. Had Adama and company been training new talent all along, the fleet would have been prepared for such an emergency.

3. Some things can't be outsourced.

Pretty much every terrible event that befalls humanity in Galactica is the direct result of an overzealous push toward outsourcing human labor to robots. The business lesson here is clear: While outsourcing may save short-term costs, outsourcing the wrong jobs can ultimately destroy your business, the economy, or your species.

4. Update your antivirus.

In season 2, episode 9, a Cylon computer virus threatens to shut down the Galactica's defenses, vent the ship's atmosphere into space, and turn its guns on the civilian fleet. No enterprise is immune to viruses, and an infection can have disastrous consequences. Run your patches and updates, folks.

5. Democracy doesn't always work.

At the close of season 2, the weary civilian fleet votes to stop the search for Earth and settle on a verdant planet called New Caprica. But like so many decisions fueled by populist anxiety, this one proves disastrous, leaving humanity enslaved by the Cylon overlords. Good leaders listen to their people, then make their own decisions.

6. Some problems can't be killed.

During the Cylon occupation on New Caprica, Starbuck is imprisoned by Leoben Conoy, who toys with her mind. She kills him repeatedly, but he just keeps coming back. We're not sure what her alternatives might have been, but it's clear that her problem wasn't going away. Likewise, some problems simply must be accepted as reality; endlessly fighting them is a waste of energy and resources.

7. Seek strategic alliances with competitors.

There are times when your enemies can also be your friends. In today's world we call these "frenemies." Case in point: In season 4, when Cylon rebels find themselves on the outs with their "people," humanity gets a shot at evening the odds by collaborating with the outcasts to destroy the Cylon resurrection hub. Cylons lose their immortality, and with it, their strategic advantage. Well-timed alliances can change any business landscape in your favor.

8. Don't store all your backups in one place.

See number 7. If Cylons can benefit from off-site backup, so can you.

9. The mission can change at any time.

Galactica accomplished its primary mission and arrived at planet Earth. Yay. Unfortunately, the entire place had been rendered uninhabitable by a nuclear holocaust two millennia earlier. Boo. New mission: Find someplace else to survive. Your mission can change at any time, whether you're ready for it or not. Be flexible.

10. Beware of visionaries. Zealots make bad leaders.

There are a few visionaries out there worth following, but for the most part, people who claim to have visions are insane. For every Bill Gates or Steve Jobs in the world, you'll find a million Admiral Cains willing to sacrifice the entire company in the service of their own egos. Or, worse, you could get stuck with an unwitting Kara Thrace, and we all know she's the harbinger of death.


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