• Bill Holmes

Management Lessons from Movies, Chapter 5: Alien: Covenant


Complete risk avoidance is almost never the right approach.

“Acknowledge beauty when you see it. Even if its appearance disturbs you, surely you can admire the skill that went into its design.” Alan Dean Foster, Alien: Covenant


“There’s so much here that doesn’t make sense.” Daniels “Dany” Branson


Covenant was the last Alien movie in the franchise and was a prequel sandwiched in between “Prometheus” and the original alien movie. 11 years after the Prometheus expedition the colonization ship Covenant is bound for a remote planet with 2000 thousand colonists, 1140 embryos and a crew of 15. The ship is monitored by Walter, a newer version of the android in the previous movie, and he awakens the crew when the ship is hit by a burst of energy that kills several colonists and the captain. They pick up a signal from a nearby habitable plant and decide to check it out!


They send a lander to explore the planet and find a beautiful, earth like world that appears completely devoid of non floral life. They track the signal to an alien ship, and in the process several of them are infected by alien spores. They rapidly sicken and are quickly put into quarantine where small creatures burst from their bodies. While protecting herself, one of the crew triggers an explosion that kills her and destroys the landing craft. The crew is attacked by the alien like creatures when David, the android that survived Prometheus, shows up and runs them off. He leads them to the Engineers home city where he explains that he released the bio weapon they found in Prometheus and wiped out the entire planet. One of the aliens appears and David attempts to communicate with it, and he becomes enraged when one of the crew kills it. David then reveals that he used the toxic black liquid to develop the new species of alien. He also explains that he believes that humanity is a failed species and should stop trying to colonize.


Mayhem ensues, many die and several aliens are killed. The final scene shows David on the Covenant (pretending to be Walter) supervising everyone returning to stasis for the trip. After everyone is asleep, we see David placing two of the alien embryos in cold storage next to the human embryos. He then sends a transmission that the entire crew were killed, and they are proceeding to the planet for colonization.


What lessons can we get from this movie?


Don’t get so excited by a “good thing” that you forget to be cautious. When the landing craft was approaching the planet, they should have noticed that there were no animals! How can you have a beautiful and “earth like” planet without animals producing carbon monoxide for the plants to “feed” on? That should have been a red flag, and any reasonable risk management process would have caused them to avoid landing until they figured that out.


If a member of the team displays awful behavior, believe they are awful! David wiped out an entire species with a biological weapon! An entire species! How homicidal do you have to be to do something like that? And yet the other members of the team listened to the story and didn’t see anything wrong with that. If someone can treat someone else badly, you better believe they will do the same to you! How many of you have seen a “leader” abuse a subordinate for some perceived slight? If they will do it to them, they will do it to you.


You can’t judge people by appearances. This is very difficult as our entire evolutionary history pushes us to do exactly that. The aliens were very frightening to look at, but they were acting in a mechanical and biological way to ensure their species reproduced. David appeared sophisticated and was well educated and refined, yet he was plotting to wipe out the entire human race!


Finally, you can’t have a single point of failure in your system. Even if you have developed a highly sophisticated technological solution, you have to have redundancy, monitoring and controls. While in stasis, the lives of every colonist and crew member depended on David operating properly. He malfunctioned, and it is implied that it was a fatal malfunction.


I think we’ve thoroughly mined the Alien franchise.


Next we’ll look at something a little different.


Coda


When did facts stop mattering? There is a famous quote that goes “Facts are stubborn things”, and yet apparently, they aren’t! I constantly see people post things on social media that are obviously and wildly incorrect, and yet there seems to be no desire to confirm facts before they are regurgitated into the public space. Even more aggravating, when inaccuracies are pointed out they attack the person, not the point. I guess this is new normal, but I miss the days when rational people could have a spirited rational conversation.

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