• Bill Holmes

Management Lessons from Movies, Chapter 4: Aliens


Even the most hardcore people can get depressed!

“These people are here to protect you. They're soldiers.” Ellen Ripley

“It won't make any difference.” Newt


“Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?” Ellen Ripley


Aliens is a very entertaining movie and was the sequel to the groundbreaking and incredibly tense “Alien”. This movie established the alien as an iconic character and spawned a variety of sequels and prequels that attempted to expand beyond a typical “horror” movie by addressing interesting questions like the origins of the human species. My personal favorites were the series of “Alien vs. Predator” movies that were surprisingly entertaining while not conflicting with the broader tapestry of the Alien franchise.


In my last post, the marines had just lost several of their colleagues to the aliens, the reactor was in the process of overheating and the military commander had decided to retreat to orbit and nuke the entire site. They give the order to the pilot to pick them up, and as she climbs into the drop ship she finds some slime on the door. As she is about to land, she is attacked by an alien and the entire ship crashes, nearly crushing the troops on the ground.


The classic quote in the meme above is the reaction!


Stranded on the planet, the survivors use their remaining weaponry to barricade themselves against the alien onslaught. The synthetic Bishop (Lance Henrikson) has discovered that he can remotely bring down another dropship to rescue everyone, but he must go outside to connect to the orbiting battleship. Ripley agrees to the plan but doesn’t trust him to not betray them.


Meanwhile, they discover that Carter Burke has been planning to smuggle the alien back to earth by making sure that Ripley and Newt become hosts for an alien egg. Almost immediately after that, the aliens breach the defenses and Burke becomes the victim of a huge alien while the remainder of the marines are killed in a running battle. Ripley loses Newt during the battle and eventually tracks her to the alien “nest”. She arrives just in time to save Newt from becoming a host, then in a fit of anger destroys the nest. This angers the huge alien queen who immediately chases Ripley and Newt. Bishop delivers the dropship just in time, and Ripley and Newt get on board safely.


Back on the warship, the alien queen suddenly appears and rips Bishop in half. While the queen goes after Newt, Ripley dons an exoskeleton, does battle with the queen and eventually forces here out of the airlock. The movie ends with Ripley and Newt in a cryochamber, and then we hear the scuttle of a baby alien on the ship.


Whew!


So what did we learn from this portion of the movie? The first lesson is that you need to judge people individually, not based on your biases. Ripley hated Bishop because she had a bad experience with someone like him, not based on his actions. You should always judge people individually based on how they engage with you, not based on what they may have done in the past. I have personally had enormous success in working with “problem” employees. In most of the instances, the problem was with the situation, not the person. In the end, Bishop saved Ripley.


The second lesson is that you need enough people to do the job! Why did everyone leave that enormous warship in orbit completely unmanned?? Where there only two pilots on earth? Had they built redundancy into their staffing model, they could have called for help and saved most of the team. But, haven’t we all had projects like that? A huge and expensive project that desperately needed a few more people? And when those people weren’t around, what happened to the project? False economy is a common denominator in many failed projects.


A third lessons is that you can’t trust someone just because they represent “management”. Sad, but true! Carter was willing to sacrifice everyone on the planet to make money! He didn’t tell the miners about the risk of the aliens, he tried to stop the marines from destroying the base, and ultimately, he was willing to use Ripley and Newt as vessels for the alien. Just because someone has a title and a nice suit doesn’t make them a leader or someone you can trust.


A fourth lesson is that what you do in a fit of anger can often cost you dearly later. Had Ripley calmly left the alien nest with Newt, she could have easily gotten to the dropship without angering the queen. Her fit of anger (while justifiable!) caused the alien queen to notice her and nearly jeopardized Newt and her getting safely off the planet. It also caused Bishop to be severely damaged. I have seen people nearly ruin their careers by lashing out in anger over an issue that no one will even remember in a few months. But they do remember the anger!


Finally, sometimes everything goes wrong. This was a battle-hardened team, yet they ran into a situation they were completely unprepared for. And everything fell apart. That does happen sometimes, and when it does the best you can hope for is that you survive (even it is just your career or reputation) the situation you are in and live to work another day.


In my next installment, I’ll discuss an Alien prequel – Prometheus.


Coda


I am often shocked at how disconnected large organizations are from their workforce. It is almost as if they set out to defeat the very things they say they stand for! For example, an organization I am familiar with prides itself on measuring how “engaged” employees are, which is an evolution from “employee satisfaction” which was apparently viewed as impossible to achieve. In order to attain high levels of “engagement”, a survey is issued every year. Several years ago responses indicated that employees felt that they didn’t have development opportunities. The organizations reaction was to put in place an elaborate system where people are forced to rate how “ready” they feel they are for their next position, then their manager concurs or assigns a different rating. Naturally, many people dislike it, and it is in reality completely disconnected from how the promotion processes actually work. But it remains in place. Interestingly, when I spoke to a consultant from a prestigious and well know firm about this, they told me they follow a similar process! Amazing.


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