Management lessons from the movies – I


filmreelPresenting a collection of blockbusters that went on to become cult movies at B-school campuses.

Be it Disney’s latest offering ‘Brave’, the age-old favourite ‘Gladiator’ or path-breaking, home-grown movies like ‘Naya Daur’, ‘Laagan’ and ‘3 Idiots’ movies have the power to influence, change and develop society in more ways than one. So it’s no surprise that premier universities and B-schools around the world are using movies to teach management theory and lessons on topics ranging from leadership and team management to governance and group dynamics.

In this 2-part blog post we’ve tracked down blockbusters that made it to B-school curriculum, becoming case studies in management. For those who missed out on these movies: catch up on powerful cinema that seriously edutains. Seen them before? Watch them again through a learning lens!

12 Angry Men

This classic trial movie was released way back in 1957. A jury deliberates on whether to pronounce a boy accused of murder as guilty or not in what seems to be an open and shut murder case with 11 of 12 jury members believing the boy to be ‘guilty’. But one simple question from the 12th jury member – ‘How are we sure?’ – transforms the courtroom drama into a struggle for control.images (2)

As issues around conflict management and group dynamics play out, the movie becomes a powerful learning aid, prompting the Harvard Business School build a case study on the movie into its curriculum. Michael A. Wheeler, Professor of Management Practice at the University, uses the case study to teach effective negotiation strategies that focus on how the protagonist of the movie, Henry Fonda, gets his way by avoiding open conflict and winning over one opponent at a time.

(The movie was also remade in Hindi in 1986 – titled Ek Ruka Hua Faisla – by eminent director Basu Chatterjee.)

Wall Street

Gordon Gekko is a legend, despite being an unscrupulous corporate raider. For the uninitiated, we are talking about the character of Michael Douglas in the 1987 American drama film ‘Wall Street’ that won Douglas the Academy Award for Best Actor. The movie portrays Gekko as a larger-than-life negative character and questions the excesses of the powerful financial world. As Gekko exploits the world of business while unashamedly proclaiming, ‘Greed is good’, the movie provides rich learning on issues around corporate governance.

Wall_Street_film‘Wall Street’ features in the curriculum of two leading US universities – the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University and Radford University. Both the universities picked this movie to focus on the sensitive issue of business ethics, while exploring concepts such as conspiracy theories and analysing the darker side of business. Shu Wang, Assistant Professor of Management at Radford says “Movies exaggerate, dramatize and sometimes oversimplify, but they can still be compelling case studies with great lessons that can be learned.”

In a post-recession world where capitalism has come under the radar and Wall Street under the Occupy Movement, movies such as ‘Wall Street’ are a reality check that establishes that ‘success does not have short-cuts’.

The Lion King

The 1994 animated Disney movie is famous for its phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’, a Swahili phrase which means ‘there are no worries’. And it is this spirit that has been recognised as part of the repertoire of leadership skills taught at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. ‘The Lion King’ teaches how to embrace your developmental areas, face your fears and rise above them and deal with negative emotions or situations with unending courage. The movie also shows the ugly side of domination.Lion-King

In a unique approach on the topic of leadership, the Tuck School of Business has not only incorporated ‘The Lion King’ in its curriculum, but expects MBA students to analyse the film in a fun environment . Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell, Associate Professor of Management at the University. Bell in fact starts her class with the movie screening and props including a tawny-maned puppet called Simba !

Apollo 13

A 1995 American film, Apollo 13, is remembered for fantastic visual effects that brought the Apollo 13 lunar mission alive on celluloid, and also for the leadership qualities exhibited by Ed Harris’ character, Gene Kranz. This is a movie around teamwork and team spirit, focussed on how a team’s trust and belief in each other ensures that they do not give up even during extreme situations.

Apollo-13-Movie-posterProfessor Marc Buelens of Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Europe reasons that Kranz’s character showcases exemplary leadership and decision making qualities, as well as showcases how they are inter-related. Further, the film contrasts the rational and clinical side of Kranz with how he uses emotion to motivate his team, leaving one awed by the sheer influence a true leader has.

While Hollywood movies have been part of B-school curriculum for years, the trend has picked at Indian management schools as well. Look out for Bollywood blockbusters that made it to management study material in our next post!

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One thought on “Management lessons from the movies – I

  1. Often, managers do all the talking in a feedback situation, something I like to call the dreaded Manager

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