A Jedi Master’s Path to Success

Luke and Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO - you know the names, you know the characters and, unless you're completely insulated from popular culture, you know that at the end of 2015 they're coming back to the big screen.

This reboot of the Star Wars franchise already is creating a stir, powered by a marketing engine that is drawing thousands to events in anticipation of the release. And in living rooms everywhere, those of us who were children when the initial film was released in 1977 are introducing our children to a world, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ..."

That is a striking fact: Nearly 40 years after its initial release, Star Wars still evokes passion and emotion in many of us who were spellbound by its story.

While reading Ed Catmull's recent book, "Creativity, Inc.," I was reminded of the story of George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars.

Catmull is the president and co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, a juggernaut in its own right with movie favorites ranging from "Toy Story" to "Monsters, Inc." But as a young man he worked for Lucas at Lucasfilm, pioneering the use of computer technology in cinematic storytelling.

And based on his experience at Lucasfilm he credits three traits for much of Lucas's success:

♦   First, Lucas possesses confidence.

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Luke and Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO - you know the names, you know the characters and, unless you're completely insulated from popular culture, you know that at the end of 2015 they're coming back to the big screen.

This reboot of the Star Wars franchise already is creating a stir, powered by a marketing engine that is drawing thousands to events in anticipation of the release. And in living rooms everywhere, those of us who were children when the initial film was released in 1977 are introducing our children to a world, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ..."

That is a striking fact: Nearly 40 years after its initial release, Star Wars still evokes passion and emotion in many of us who were spellbound by its story.

While reading Ed Catmull's recent book, "Creativity, Inc.," I was reminded of the story of George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars.

Catmull is the president and co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, a juggernaut in its own right with movie favorites ranging from "Toy Story" to "Monsters, Inc." But as a young man he worked for Lucas at Lucasfilm, pioneering the use of computer technology in cinematic storytelling.

And based on his experience at Lucasfilm he credits three traits for much of Lucas's success:

♦   First, Lucas possesses confidence.

The often-told story is how after his early commercial success with the film "American Graffiti," Lucas was urged by his colleagues to ask for a much-higher salary for "Star Wars." That's the conventional approach: direct a successful film, demand more money for the next one.

Instead, Lucas asked for the ownership rights to licensing and merchandising for the film. He believed in the project and his ability to deliver a great film.

The movie studio, 20th Century Fox, in contrast, was simply looking for the next blockbuster among a portfolio of films it was backing, so giving up a potential revenue stream on an unproven film hardly seemed risky. The studio agreed to the terms.

Today, Forbes lists George Lucas as having a net worth over $5 billion.

♦   Second, Lucas sees value in the journey, the struggle to achieve a goal.

This is a recurring theme in his movies ("Do, or do not - there is no try") - and also in his life.

Catmull recounts how Lucas would motivate the team - these projects were not accomplished alone, but together - with gallows humor that was disturbingly on point. Developing Skywalker Ranch, where Lucas built his own film facilities, was like "a ship going down river ... that had been cut in half ... and whose captain had been thrown overboard.

"'We're still going to get there,' he (Lucas) would say. 'Grab the paddles and let's keep going!'"

♦   Third, Catmull writes, Lucas takes a long-term perspective. He has a big picture in mind, a picture of his future. And this vision, fueled by his self-confidence and willingness to work hard and struggle, is what has propelled him forward.

This isn't the formula for a comfortable life. But for Lucas, at least, it has proven the formula for an artistically and commercially productive life.


Each of us has the opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to develop our own formula for success. And as I read these passages in Catmull's book, I saw applications for you and for me as professionals in the oil and natural gas industry.

We've chosen to work in a cyclical, commodity business. Job security as historically defined is an increasing rarity in the global economy. But in our industry it's vanished.

What does that mean for your big picture, your future?

You may not be our industry's next George Lucas. But remember, he didn't do it alone - and the people on his teams, like Ed Catmull, have gone on to have their own remarkable careers.

There are nearly 40,000 AAPG members spanning the eastern and western hemispheres, geoscientists like you and me. Helping you make connections and build professional relationships is why AAPG exists. It's why we're gathering in Denver later this month for our Annual Convention and Exhibition.

We're all in this together, striving to create our individual and collective futures.

Surround yourself with people like that, and who knows what could happen?

Building your future takes vision - you have to know where you're headed. It takes confidence and skill to achieve your goals. And it will likely take struggle. The kind of struggle where if you knew going in how hard it would be, you wouldn't start.

But that's why we need each other - to build our futures together.

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