Films are classed as entertainment, but they can be valuable pools of learning, too. You might not see the subsection “Movies for Project Managers” on your Netflix home page, but trust us, they’re out there. Loads of movies are about big projects; whether you’re dodging icebergs in the Atlantic or hordes of orc scum in the Mines of Moria, you’re involved in a project of some kind. Invariably, these projects go horribly wrong, as that’s where the drama is. Fortunately for us, that’s also where the learning experience is. So, in terms of inspiration for project managers, here are four of the best flicks. (Two of them are really long, too, so you can happily spend half the working day “researching”. Bonus.)
Sometimes, even something that’s too big to fail can, well, fail. Ignore the doom-laden romantic overtones of DiCaprio slipping off the iceberg as Kate wails into the night, and take a cold, hard look at the practicalities of the Titanic’s untimely demise. The single worst thing that could happen to that particular project happened. And everything was alright in the end, right? Well, no… In this case, thousands of people died and millions of dollars were lost. Total catastrophe. However! The band still struck up a tune as the ship was going down, displaying life-affirming character in the face of unbridled disaster.
No one involved in the planning of the Titanic’s first voyage ever thought it was going to sink. They didn’t even think it was capable of sinking. And yet, sink it did. The lesson here (a pretty long lesson at three hours and fifteen minutes – cheers for that, Cameron) is that s*** happens to the best of us. Sometimes, you just won’t see it coming. One day you’re prancing around on the deck of the largest ship in the world; the next you’ve contracted hypothermia and find yourself rapidly slipping out of your lover’s grasp. Take heart in the fact that, despite things not going your way all the time, you’ll never be the much put-upon project manager of the Titanic. It’s all relative.
We all know the famous quote from Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get”. However, when you consider that for more than four seconds, it becomes clear that this is not really some great philosophical revelation. A five-year-old could tell you that no one knows what’s going to happen in the future. (Also, when it comes to a box of chocolates, you can be pretty darn sure you’re going to get chocolate of some kind.) Anyway. The real lesson to be learned from Hanks and co. is that trying something new is usually a fantastic course of action. And this is key for great project management strategy.
Think of the success Forrest has! Everything he turns his hand to, he nails. Shrimp fishing, ping pong, running; all totally disparate careers, and yet each new path invigorates him and those around him. He’s never afraid to try something new, and more to the point, he focuses fully on the task at hand. Take a leaf out of Forrest’s book and always try something new when the opportunity presents itself.
The Lord of the Rings
If you had told Frodo at the beginning of his journey that it was going to take him three whole films to reach the fiery cracks of Mount Doom in Mordor, he probably would’ve said something like “Actually, I’m alright here Gandalf, thanks pal”. Luckily for Middle Earth, he didn’t say that; instead, he and the rest of the gang successfully dispatched the wicked One Ring and mega creep Sauron once and for all. However, it did cost them quite a bit. Frodo himself almost died, like, nine times, and his friendship with his best mate Sam was tested to the extreme. But because the finish line was always mentally in sight (if not in literal sight), they found the will to keep going.
Some projects are just going to feel interminable and some days will feel like you’re getting continuously mauled by orcs. But take heart; everything comes to an end eventually. No matter how rough things seem, every project will end at some point in time. While you’re in the midst of the woods, or the depth of the mines, why not utilize all the tools you can to make it easier on yourself? Productive doesn’t have a magic ring or glowing blue spider-killing sword (yet!), but it does have awesome time management features and commits to improving your workflow through a number of innovative components. If Aragorn could’ve downloaded Productive, he just might have saved himself some time, energy, and bloodshed. (Or here’s a novel idea: he could’ve just used one of those gigantic eagles to courier the Ring directly to the melting pot.)
Rambo: First Blood
The first cue we can take from Rambo is that, if you disagree with someone, you should shoot them in the face with an arrow.
Nah, not really. You’d get arrested! The best lesson that project managers can actually learn from Rambo is not to fall back on unmitigated violence, but to adapt to every situation and environment you find yourself in. Rambo is a master at this. He’ll happily wander into any old enemy territory and improvise ways to rain unrelenting death upon his opponents. The man’s only plan is to have no plan.
But Mr. Rambo isn’t all brute force! He’s smart, too. And you’ll need to be smart to navigate the trying and testing world of project management. Honed in the intense fires of Vietnam, Rambo is an expert at guerrilla warfare and survival, never missing a chance to adapt a situation to his advantage. And he’s got a good heart, too – you know that because he doesn’t kill that kid who subsequently rats him out. Another fine lesson from John Rambo: don’t hurt children, even if they’re going to end up being little snitches!