Published on: October 23, 2012by Michael Sansolo
There’s an old saying that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Regular readers of MNB may have noticed that Kevin and I do have a hammer: a book on how to use movies to gain lessons and insights to solve problems and more. So forgive me for pulling out the old hammer to make a point, but I just can’t resist.
In the midst of this politically charged season I keep noticing one thing happening from both sides of the spectrum. In short, partisans that we are we watch these candidates to find moments that only confirm what we already believe. There is nothing Obama or Romney can say that can shift what 95 percent us of think. We watch their speeches, debates and commercials only to find things that delight us (from the guy we support) or disgust us (from the other guy.)
And in that I think there’s a powerful lesson in leadership, but it takes a movie. In fact, it takes a movie from our book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.
Odds are that many of you have never seen In the Heat of the Night, a brilliantly made movie from 1967 that won five Academy Awards, including best picture. The story takes place in a small Mississippi town in the middle of the civil rights movement and highlights the obvious friction between the races.
But essentially it is a murder mystery and a story in overcoming bias. Because it is such a good movie to watch (and you should watch it) I won’t give away the plot, except to say the essential lesson we call out in the book is about a common flaw we all have: knowing the answer to a question without knowing the question. During the course of In the Heat of the Night we repeatedly see what happens when people are so certain of the cause of a crime that they forget to actually follow the facts.
So why does this 45-old-movie and a highly charged political environment matter to business? Because like it or not, we all have the exact same problem.
Too often we know the answer before we know the question. We trust experience and history, not realizing that those very assets can bias us to understanding a changing landscape. And that can lead us, like it leads the actors in the movie, to reaching the wrong conclusions and the wrong answers.
We generally recognize that the world today might be changing faster than anything we’ve ever encountered. Whether it’s the new technologies, competitive challenges or even the different ethos, style and work ethic of different generations we get baffled. We constantly try to find the answer that makes sense and that aligns with the skills we have. It happens to me all the time and I bet it happens to you.
In short, we keep pulling out our hammers when only a small percentage of the problems are nails.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
- KC's View:
- There's another movie with a line that encapsulates the problem to be avoided. The movie is Casablanca, and the line comes from Claude Rains' character, a corrupt local police captain, who says several times, "Round up the usual suspects."
That's an attitude to be avoided at all costs. When you are looking for a strategy, a tactic, the right person for a job or the right answer to a problem, the last thing you want to do is round up the usual suspects. Because often, the innovative strategy or tactic, or the right person or answer, will come from a different place, the unexpected place.