Management Lessons from Movies, Chapter 6: Independence Day
“I picked a hell of a day to quit drinkin’.” Russel Casse
“It's a fine line between standing behind a principle and hiding behind one. You can tolerate a little compromise, if you're actually managing to get something accomplished.” President Thomas J. Whitmore
Independence Day had a star studded cast and was a huge hit in 1996. Everyone knows the plot. Alien ships suddenly appear in the sky and their intentions are not immediately clear. A hidden signal is discovered, the aliens attack and a team of eclectic and misfit heroes emerge to lead humanity to victory!
I may have taken a few shortcuts with the plot! If you haven’t seen this movie, watch it. Now!
Here are a couple of management lessons from this great movie.
1) Even if you are the boss, you need to listen to your experts and respect their perspective. Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is the President of the United States and has assembled his staff to watch the military attempt contact with the aliens. One of his trusted advisers pulls him out of the meeting where he finds David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), an MIT graduate and the former husband of his adviser. They are not on good terms! David tells him that the aliens have embedded a signal and are about to attack, and the President immediately orders the evacuation of the cities.
How many of you have had bosses that would have made a crucial decision based on the opinion of a genius expert? Or would they have formed a committee to examine the facts? And that committee would have still been working on an agenda in a conference room when the aliens attacked!
2) Diversity of thought is incredibly important. There is a pivotal scene where President Whitmore is asked to decide how to fight back against the invading aliens. His advisers, traditional politicians, are recommending that they use the nuclear weapons that had already proven to be ineffective. An innovative plan was proposed by Hiller (Will Smith), Levinson (Goldblum) and Julius (Judd Hirsch), and that plan ultimately leads to victory.
Surrounding yourself with people who think like you is one of the greatest traps that leaders fall into, and it is an even greater risk if the manager came from a specific discipline. For example, if you are an attorney, you will likely place a premium on the opinion of other attorneys. This becomes even more dangerous if you seek out the opinions of people who went to the same school as you! Avoid that and surround yourself with people with completely different backgrounds and perspectives! I could list many examples where huge mistakes were made because there were no dissenting opinions in the room! Value everyone’s opinion and really, really listen!
3) Even if you are very important, the rules still apply to you. First Lady Whitmore (Mary McDonnell) was asked numerous times by the President to get out of the city, but she continued to delay because of what she perceived as important issues. She didn’t appear to be in a hurry as they were evacuating and even stopped to look at people on a nearby roof celebrating the alien’s arrival. As a result of her delay, the helicopter was destroyed and she eventually died.
How many times have powerful people done stupid things? Whether it is a Hollywood mogul, a New York prosecutor or a former President, history is replete with examples of powerful believing they are above the law. They aren’t. Follow the rules.
4) Talent comes in all forms, and often the most talented are the most eccentric. Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) was widely viewed as a mildly unhinged alcoholic who believed in aliens. While eccentric, he was a decorated combat pilot. He ultimately sacrificed himself to destroy the alien ship and in doing so showed the world how to defeat them.
Almost all highly accomplished geniuses are eccentric! They may lack social skills and don't "blend in", but they are incredibly important to an organizations innovation and success. Does your organization welcome and cultivate eccentric brilliance, or does everyone need to conform to the corporate “image” of professionalism?
Next we will look at the management lessons in one of my favorite movies, Resident Evil.
What happened to social discourse? We used to argue issues, but it is becoming increasingly common to vilify people just because you don’t agree with them! I few days ago someone posted to Facebook that “You have to be mentally unstable to disagree with me!” I am paraphrasing, but that was the intent. I saw someone else say “anyone who doesn’t agree with me is a Fascist”. Again, not the exact same words they used, but it was clearly their meaning. Regardless of your political opinion, is it a persuasive strategy to alienate half the country? I don't think so. In any case, I am blocking them. I thought they were my friends, but who needs friends like that?