Business Lessons from Ender’s Game

I finally read Ender’s Game in anticipation of the upcoming movie. (I have a lot of sci-fi to catch up on after almost exclusively reading business books for a decade.) I enjoyed the book and found that there were some lessons in there that would apply to business, careers, and personal relationships.

The overall theme seemed to be that everything that happens to you in life helps prepare you for the future. Or in other words the classic phrase, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Some of the specific quotes follow.


“It’s plain we can’t count on old ways of doing things,” Ender said. “So you’d better plan on battles anytime.”

What has worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future. The better prepared you are the better you are able to capitalize on opportunities.

“I need you to be clever, Bean. I need you to think of solutions to problems we haven’t seen yet. I want you to try things that no one has ever tried because they’re absolutely stupid.”

Anticipate problems. Brainstorm. Don’t dismiss ideas out of hand. Jot them down and revisit later.


“We need the best we can get, and we need them fast.”

When startups get funded they often go on hiring sprees trying to hire the best people quickly. However the full context of the book is that they had been screening Ender for years which is something businesses don’t have the time or ability to do. However you can do something like that with programmers by checking their profiles and code on GitHub.


“The better Ender knew them, the faster he could deploy them, the better he could use them.”

Take time to get to know your employees, to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Let them play to their strengths which is where they’ll deliver the largest returns.

“And soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they’ve been given.”

Give your employees some latitude with the tasks you give them. And be open to hearing their reasoning on things they don’t believe will work.


“If they felt that the hook was their authority, their power over the other boys, then they were less likely to work without it.”

Don’t let your title be your authority. Authority can come with respect and you’ll likely get better results from a team that respects you for reasons other than being higher on the organizational chart.

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s winning, but that scares him worst of all, because he doesn’t know why he’s winning, except that I have something to do with it.”

Recognize the employees that are fueling your success.


“Valentine could persuade other people to her point of view — She could convince them that they wanted what she wanted them to want.”

The premise of marketing. Probably easier to get your message across if you create something people actually want. Do that customer research!

“Our tests are very good, Ender. But they don’t tell us everything. In fact, when it comes down to it, they hardly tell us anything. But they’re better than nothing.”

You should be measuring but many people end up measuring the wrong thing. Your experience should help you decide what to measure and what measurements to disregard.

“This is the Earth, he thought. Not a globe thousands of kilometers around, but a forest with a shining lake, a house hidden at the crest of the hill, high in the trees, a grassy slope leading upward from the water, fish leaping and birds strafing to take the bugs that lived at the border between water and sky.”

Think local before thinking global. Think vertical before thinking horizontal. It is easier to build a product for a smaller niche than trying to be everything to everybody. It is also easier and more cost effective to market to a small niche.


“Soon enough Ender Wiggin will also know what I know; he will dance the graceful ghost dance through the stars, whatever greatness there is within him will be unlocked, revealed, set forth before the universe for all to see.”

A wonderful image to think of just before your unleash your product upon the world.


“Nobody gets hurt, but winning and losing matter.”

Don’t let your job hurt your health or your relationship with your family. Celebrate and build on the successes. Learn from the failures. There will be another match.

“If you had any brains, you’d be in a real career, like selling life insurance.”

Startups are tough. The odds are against you. So do it because you can’t do anything else and not because you’re looking to get rich. If you want to get rich go to Wall St. If you want job security become an accountant.

“The power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can’t kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.”

I’m not taking this excerpt literally but taking it to mean that if you hone your skills then you aren’t subject to the whims of one company. Your skills will give you mobility so do you have to remain subjected to work environments that will kill your spirit.

“All he had to do was watch the game and understand how things worked, and then he could use the system, and even excel.”

I think this is wonderful advice for somebody at their first job out of college or even for somebody at a new job at a large company. If you try to change things too soon you will likely step on somebody’s toes. Watch and use what you learn to plot your strategy.

“I’ll tell you how to get a toon. Prove to me you know what you’re doing as a soldier. Prove to me you know how to use other soldiers. And then prove to me that somebody’s willing to follow you into battle.”

Good leaders make everybody better. They make a team more than the sum of its parts. Companies like to promote leaders.

“Believed, but the seed of doubt was there, and it stayed, and every now and then sent out a little root. It changed everything, to have that seed growing. It made Ender listen more carefully to what people meant, instead of what they said. It made him wise.”

Often people will have motives (not necessarily bad) or an agenda so they will frame discussions in a way that works towards that end. That might or might not be beneficial for you. Think of the reasoning behind the words. Don’t take everything you hear at face value.


“The best you can do is choose to fill the roles given you by good people, by people who love you.”

Make sure you have a strong relationship with your family and friends. Remember that they care more about you than your business. You should feel the same about them.

“I will remember this, thought Ender, when I am defeated. To keep dignity, and give honor where it’s due, so that defeat is not disgrace.”

Under stress (which running a business produces a lot of) it can be difficult to maintain your composure and dignity. That is doubly so when things aren’t going well. And it leads nicely into the next quote:

“Everything we do means something.”

Actions speak louder than words. People will remember what you do and doors will open or close based on that.

“Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”

Stay true to yourself so you don’t become somebody you don’t want to be.