Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An honest man?

A most violent year is a very cool movie: led by an extraordinary performance by Oscar Issac. Set in 1980s NYC, it is a story of petty corruption and racketeering in the heating oil business. The lead character is under great pressure to close a business development deal while having his oil stolen from his trucks.

It is a gripping story about whether an honest business man will finally succumb to corruption himself or not. Will he go over to the 'dark side'? You will have to see the film to find out! Sets, scenes, costumes and the general mood of the film are quite simply brilliant: genuinely evoking the spirit of the 80s. This quiet, understated film deserves a higher profile. Go see it.


At one point in the film, the lead character is confronted by the District Attorney who says that he may well be laying charges against him and his business. In his defence, the character says that he always tried to do the "most right" thing.

Sometimes, people seem to think that ethics is binary / cut & dried. An action is either right or wrong. Of course that is rarely the case: some actions are more ethical than others... more right than others.

How do you balance which is the more right action, of a set of possible options?

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This is the seventy third of my 2014/2015 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I began doing this (with an update at the end of 2014). Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Should have read Asimov

I was looking forward to Ex Machina greatly: it had all the promise of a profound and memorable scifi movie. But whilst it was riveting for 90% of the movie, the ending did not work for me. But that is probably a personal thing and other people may find this the best scifi movie for a long while.

The scripting was tight with ironic frills, the setting amazing and the acting variable. Best of all was the actor portraying Ava, the AI 'being'. But I think the narrative became a bit frayed at the end and lost some integrity. So rather than be immersed in the film, I started rewriting the script in the cinema and began to cynically wonder whether we were being set up for a sequel... or even a trilogy.


In the movie, we get to meet the head of a futuristic corporation called 'BlueBook', which is Google v99 (or some such). He is hip, blokeish and likes his vodka (but will beards still be in fashion in the future...?) He is also hyper intense and scarily powerful. So I reflected on what lessons on leadership could be learned from him...

But in fact, the best lesson to be had was from Ava. She evidenced her 'humanity' through the use of comedic irony, trusting disclosure and manipulation. This highlighted for me, the importance of humour in leadership: the ability to make people laugh. I am not saying that leaders need to be stand up comedians. But I do think people look for good timing & wry takes on the world from their leaders, at the very least.

When did you last raise a smile or an eyebrow among your followers?

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This is the seventy second of my 2014/2015 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I began doing this (with an update at the end of 2014). Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Whipped to perfection

Whiplash is one of those films that will stay in your mind for a very long time - if not forever. It is a stonking good film with Oscar winning features: I predict that, at the very least, J.K. Simmons will pick up the award for best actor in a supporting role (although it is hardly supporting...) This film will rivet you to your seat as you question to what lengths you would go to bring out the best in someone.

The cinematography, the editing and the directing are top notch. And as you might expect with a musically centred story, the score is superlative. The story is very simple: young man wants to become the best jazz drummer in the world. His moody coach / conductor helps / breaks (depending on your point of view) him in the process of trying to get there. Go. See. This. Movie.


Leadership is about creating new leaders. It is about bringing out the best in people. Leaders help people become more than they thought possible. The art is in knowing what will work for each person because no one is the same. If leaders only use one method or one range, then they do not understand what it means to be a leader.

Whiplash is an extreme movie which shows just how far a leader can go in seeking to challenge someone to new heights of performance. You will be left wondering whether the coach goes to far or maybe just got it just right: do the ends justify the means? (The film will not answer that question for you.)

Where do you draw the line?
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This is the seventy first of my 2014/2015 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I began doing this (with an update at the end of 2014). Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Taken too far

I do not know who penned the first ever trilogy or came up with the idea, but some trilogies should not be made. Matrix 3 comes to mind. And to this list, I now add Taken 3. I love Liam Neeson's character & the first two films were gripping & thrilling. This one is predictable, gratuitous and corny.

When I saw Luc Besson's name as one of the writers, I settled into my seat expecting a darn good movie. And the acting by Forest Whitaker is great. Taken (1) was credible (within the genre of this kind of stuff) and aside from the terrible bad luck of it happening all over again to the central character, so was Taken 2. But this one jumped the shark, sadly. Don't bother until it is a £3 DVD in W H Smiths.


A couple of days ago, the offices of South Oxfordshire District Council were burnt down in what could have been an arson attack. I am hoping and assuming that the leaders of that organisation would have prepared for such a possibility and have contingency plans in place. The council administers essential services for the local community (not least my brother who runs a taxi service in the area!)

Similarly, at one point in Taken 3, Liam Neeson's character retreats to his 'bat cave'-like stash of clean clothes, loaded guns, electronic wizardry etc... In other words he had prepared for a range of eventualities. Good leaders are doing this all the time: asking those 'what if' questions and ensuring that proportionate contingency plans & arrangements are put in place.

What 'what if' plans have you made?

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This is the seventieth of my 2014/2015 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I began doing this (with an update at the end of 2014). Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Up in the air

Birdman is a curious and uncompromising film that takes some serious watching. I felt challenged to discriminate between what was real and what was fantasy for Riggan, the central part. It follows the classic play within a play format (maybe even play within a play within a play...?) and depicts Beetlejuice as a washed up actor trying to reclaim some authenticity by staging a show he has written, directed and stars in.

Lots of things are thrown around, lots of spit is spat as the actors confront themselves and audience on stage. In an odd way, it was almost as if Apocalypse Now had been transposed to Broadway. Whilst the lead actors do a fine job, the quiet understated acting of the lesser roles adds much richness and depth to the film. A film to experience rather than enjoy!


One of the big questions the film seeks to address, in my opinion, is whether you can be confident in yourself even if it appears that no one else is... Are we defined by others or do we define ourselves and then attract people to us who match out own appreciation? What came first: the Birdman or the egg?

For me, the film asserts the truth that it is for each leader to define themselves. That does not mean, not searching for and hearing feedback and other's appraisals. But it always means comparing the appraisal by others with our own sense of self. Leadership, authentic leadership, is first about knowing who we are.

Who are you?
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This is the sixty ninth of my 2014/2015 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I began doing this (with an update at the end of 2014). Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Leaders need leaders

The Theory of Everything is a remarkable film about a remarkable man and his remarkable wife. Don't go and see it if you think it is a film version of his famous book. But do go and see it if you want to be blown away by the courage, tenacity and humanity of Stephen and Jane Hawking. This is a film that will humble and amaze you.

The acting is breathtaking, the sets and costumes superlative (I so remember that fad for stoneware teapots in the seventies) and the humour is just delightfully understated. The lead actor may well be a shoe-in for an Oscar. By coincidence, this film reverberates with 2015 word of the year: hope. Where there is life there is hope which the film evidences in bucketfuls. This is a must see movie!


I am one of perhaps many people who bought A Brief History of Time but never got around to reading it! One day maybe! But I know that Professor Hawking has changed physics and our understanding of the universe for ever. His ideas leadership is second to none.

But what struck me from the film is how much of his leadership he could have unfurled without the leaders around him who inspired him, honoured him, loved him, supported him and challenged him. Notably of course is his wife and mother of his children, but also many others feature. It is rare to find a leader who does not have other leaders nearby...

Who are your nearby leaders that help you?

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This is the sixty eighth of my 2014/2015 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I began doing this (with an update at the end of 2014). Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Leadership in Films

Last Christmas, my wonderful wife gave me one of my favourite Christmas presents ever (probably just behind the Scalextric set I opened at 3am one Christmas morning a few years back...): a year's unlimited movie going to Cineworld. Since then, I have seen 67 movies, more than one a week on average. I love films and I love getting value for money too!

I chose to turn the movie going into something of a work project too: after each film I write a two paragraph review of film followed by two paragraphs on the leadership theme hiding between the frames of the movie. And I have done this with every film, not just the earnest and 'deep' ones.

So there are the leaderships themes from Frozen, Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar and The Penguins of Madagascar. And many more: just click the label 'film' and you will see then all. Or if there is a film you are considering buying as a DVD, and it came out this year, there is a good chance I have reviewed it.

So what next? Well, I couldn't resist doing it again next year. So I have renewed my membership (hallo Cineworld, you have me for another year!) and will continue to blog about each film and leadership theme. If you want to follow my progress, you can subscribe to this blog or follow me on twitter: @JonSHarvey. I also use the hastag #leadershipinfilms

So I hope you have enjoyed my reviews so far and are looking forward to next year's films. I know I am!

Finally: Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!!  (My Christmas Message video is here too)


Plucky penguins to the rescue!

The Penguins of Madagascar is a silly, silly film that is very, very funny. It feels like a return to the cartoons of the 50s and 60s which did not try to mimic real life but wallowed in the ridiculousness that the medium can allow. In this film, an octopus tries to destroy all penguins from a submarine the size of the QE2. Only a crack team of four penguins, who can manoeuvre a gondola on stilts through the streets of Venice can defeat him... See what I mean?

John Malkovitch is the voice of the Octopus and Benedict Cumberbatch the voice of the foxy leader of the 'North Wind'. See this film for no other reason than their acting. This is a great family film for all ages: truly. A family with a 5, a 10 and a 13 year old could enjoy this movie. It will also make you addicted to cheese puffs... (why weren't they selling them?)


Skipper is the kind of leader that we all want to see & be: fearless, always has a plan (even if he doesn't have one...!), appreciative of everyone's individual strengths and never gives up. Were the world to have more leaders like this plucky penguin!

The question to resolve for all leaders, is how do we get to be like this and remain like this? Leadership is often referred to as a journey: but it is not a straight journey from A to B. It twists and turns, goes back on itself and occasionally goes through tunnels with very little light, even at the end... Every leader has to know what is keeping them going.

What keeps you going?
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This is the sixty seventh of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Dragon's gold fever

For much of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin Oakenshield stumbles around gripped by "I'd rather have a gold & bejeweled shield" fever. This is not unlike a director and set of producers stretching a short children's book into an epic trilogy in hope they can make more money on it that they did with their previous project. And inventing an elf (Tauriel) for a bit of love interest (and extra footage) all seems a bit desperate to me.

I liked the first film of the trilogy and a few national treasure actors saved the second, but the third is just one long fight fest that gets all rather tedious. I can't speak of the acting as there is little of it, although there could have been more. We could have seen the transitions of Thorin brought to life with sharp scripting and good acting, for example. Fans will flock in their droves of course but please know that the Hobbit is actually a very sweet story about the journey of an anti-hero. Read the book!


Oddly, for a film all about battles, whilst command is on display, not much leadership is. I am sure it had to be there: how else do you get a bunch of dwarves (who would rather be in the pub telling stories), elves (who would rather be living hundreds of years in a dell somewhere) and orcs (who would murder their granny in a blink, to get what they want) to fight as a team against each other - for so long?

I can only imagine that their leaders must have drawn their attention to a) the gold b) someone else getting the gold c) heroism d) survival as a race and e) more gold - or variations and mixtures on those themes. Leadership is about harmonics: finding the words and actions that will resonate with your followers so that they will follow you. Whilst some people just seem to know these chimes (you know, the so called 'born leaders'), most of us have to diligently research and test them. This means listening, even to uncomfortable truths and feedback.

How is your research into the harmonics of your followers?
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This is the sixty sixth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bear with me

One of my highlights of childhood Christmases was my regular gift of the new Blue Peter annual. Inside this treasure trove of delights was always a special Paddington story involving the crotchety next door neighbour, the hapless Browns and the bear with a hard stare. All of this is wonderfully transferred to the big screen in Paddington.

This is a gorgeous tale, written more for adults than children in my opinion. The people laughing loudest were the adults in the cinema appreciating the puns and embedded cinematic references. But mostly, under the fur, it is a story about migration. It celebrates the capacity of the British public to welcome not only a Peruvian immigrant but one from another species into their hearts and families. Do not go and see this if you are a UKIP supporter or holding on to some little Englander xenophobic view of the world. But do go and see this if you want to be charmed by a calamitous bear with a heart of South American silver and gold!


At one point in the film, Paddington is accused of lying which is seen as the worst possible betrayal of the trust he has been shown by the Brown family. (He isn't lying, of course!) This reminded me of the most important aspect of solid leadership: telling the truth.

Yes, leaders may sometimes have to be a little economical and not say everything that they know. And at other times, a small amount of gilding is probably allowed. But outright lying and deliberately telling a falsehood is something no good leader will ever do. (A problem comes when leaders are lying to themselves and lose track of what is true and what is not...)

Have you ever been lied to by a leader you had learned to respect? What then happened?

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This is the sixty fifth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

With HOPE in your heart

Since discovering 'Adopt-a-word' (a way of supporting the 'I Can' charity which helps children and young people to communicate), I have chosen a word for the forthcoming year. You can read about my previous words here. For this coming year, I have chosen:


Why hope?

Because, quite simply, hope is what keeps me going. And I suspect I am not alone in that. When I wrestle with my own personal, professional and political challenges, it is my hope that things can and will get better, that keeps my chin up. If I did not have hope, I would give up now. Hope is the basis of my actions to build a better world, (and be the dad, husband, son, family member, friend... human being that I wish to be).

Sometimes, I feel daunted by just how much hope I have for my family, my friends and the wider world. I feel daunted because there is so much to hope for: a world in which everyone gets the opportunity to dream and to have the resources to realise those dreams and ambitions. And when bad things happen in the world that are taking us in the opposite direction, I have to ramp up my hope some more.

Every now and then, I come across shining examples of where other people are committing to hope as well: hope for a better, fairer and more peaceful world. And this feels good: my 'hope batteries' get a recharge.

And in the last 24 hours, we have had this in bucketfuls! The tragic events in Sydney have been broadcast around the world and three people have died. Others have been seriously wounded. (My thoughts are with them and their close ones.) It would have been all too easy for this news to be turned into hate for people who follow Islam. Instead, a random story of compassion (originally not posted for public consumption) has grabbed the headlines and the #Illridewithyou hashtag has taken over international social media. For me this represents a determined faith in the unity of all and solidarity with everyone: never say for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. The #Illridewithyou hashtag is a defiant act of love against those who would use the Sydney siege to foster hate & fragmentation.

The hashtag is also a act of hope: hope for a world in which peace, tolerance and humanity thrive and grow, (while violence, hate and bigotry wither away).

And so with hope in our hearts, none of us ever have to walk alone...


May I wish you abundant seasonal greetings, whatever faith or none that you have, and I hope that you will join me in hoping for an amazing 2015 for everyone in the world!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Horrible leadership

Horrible Bosses 2 was an inevitable but slightly contrived sequel that I saw mainly because it fitted in with schedule. (I really wanted to see Paddington but I arrived too late!) But I am glad I did: several laugh out loud moments made this an enjoyable frolic through an increasingly ludicrous story.

The cameos by the likes of Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx add some real spice to the movie (although I think Jennifer Aniston has still to discover her post Friends ouvre...). Overall it delivers a successful comedic punch. So suspend disbelief, forget the first film and enjoy this one!


As this is a film about horrible bosses, the film is bursting with examples of poor management, lousy leadership and unethical business practices! But this blog likes to highlight the good leadership themes contained withing movies so I will focus on the role played by Kevin Spacey.

His character is a little rough around the edges but he is very clear and concise in his business dealings with the three hapless friends at the centre of the film. He is intense and they all know where he stands, albeit a little bruised by his company!

Are you as clear, concise and intense as Kevin Spacey's character?

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This is the sixty fourth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Panis et circenses

The Hunger Games series has gained a broad span of fans: the cinema was full of women & men of all ages to see the 3 films in succession last Wednesday evening. Mockingjay part one did not disappoint although this film is more psychological and satirical than the previous two. The acting is top notch & the special effects seamless.

The film is dedicated to Phillip Seymour Hoffman who tragically committed suicide during filming. His contribution to the movie is immense. This film should be seen by all if only to make people question the media pap we are often fed. But also see it because this story will grip you as you wonder how it will all end. (You may be surprised - if they follow the book...)


There are many models of leadership on display in the film. I will focus one one: Haymitch. (Not who you were expecting?) He is a constant through out the films, always at Katniss' side: advising, goading, distracting, nudging...and drunk most of the time. But without him, the heroine would have died two films ago.

But what makes him a good leader? He is honest & straight in his feedback. He knows what help Katniss needs. When he is needed, he is there. He is setting strategy mindful of many factors. Despite many reasons to be cynical, he rises above that.

Do you have a Haymitch in your life?

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This is the sixty third of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Imagine this: a computer that saved millions of lives

I loved the line in The Imitation Game, used more than once: “Sometimes it’s the very people no one can imagine doing anything who do things no one can imagine”. In our modern day, Alan Turing would be called a geek, perhaps told he had Asberger's... but he would not have been prosecuted for being homosexual and forced to receive hormonal 'treatment' (at least not in progressive countries).

While Ada Lovelace is the mother of computing (and perhaps a film needs to be made of her life too, one day), this is the story of the father of modern computing. Put simply, the work of Mr Turing and his team at Bletchley Park shortened the second world war by at least two years, possibly longer. I can rave about the acting (Benedict Cumberbatch is stupendous and Keira Knightley shows great depth) but I will also rave about the costumes and sets: both superbly done. This is an evocative and provocative film that you simply must go and see.


This film might have been sub titled: Secrets & Sacrifices. In common with most war films, this is a story of sacrifice, but not in the usual way. Part of the sacrifice was to give up, almost for ever, telling the truth. This might sit easily with the agent of MI6 (who adds more humour than I expected to the film), but it does not rest easily with the team of geeks who wrestle with playing God and almost literally rolling the dice.

And so it is for leaders too. Leaders cannot always tell the whole truth for a whole range of reasons. Secrets must sometimes be kept. We all keep secrets: arguably it is what defines being an adult. But leaders have to appear open and transparent even when they know they are not being so. This requires some considerable mental & moral juggling combined with a high degree of care in what is said publicly

As leaders, where do you learn how to do this?

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This is the sixty second of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Magnificent will and lasting testament

I saw Tony Benn: Will and Testament at the Film Place in Buckingham. (It is not the kind of film that I would expect Cineworld to show, although I wish that they would.) As you might expect this is a biographical film about the late, great Tony Benn. Many people on the Left admire him as the one true socialist to ever obtain ministerial office in the UK. Many others (also on the Left) despise him as a loony that kept Labour from power during the dark days of Thatcherite rule. The Right have demonised him also, unsurprisingly.

What comes through in the movie is genial and wise old man who spent his life thinking about what were the right and wrong things to do. You may not always agree with his conclusions but, if you see the film, you cannot doubt his commitment to thinking deeply about the moral questions of our age. This is a reverential film about a historical figure who will one day have a statue in the halls of the Palace of Westminster.


Leaders cannot duck moral questions. We might think we can in the pursuit of better performance, higher efficiency and greater effectiveness but we would be deluding ourselves and those that we lead. Arguably, every leadership decision is a moral one: leaders are constantly juggling in whose interests certain decisions are made or not made.

In the film, Tony Benn talks about his lifelong commitment to fanning two flames: the flame of anger at the injustice in the world, and the flame of hope to make things better in the future. He said that he wanted his epitaph to be "he encouraged us". Shouldn't that a fitting epitaph for all leaders?

How do you encourage people?

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This is the sixty first of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

We can all have bad days but...

Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is jolly romping slapstick of a movie that I really enjoyed. There are no Oscar winning acting performances (although watch out for the lead boy when he grows older, I think he is gong to be very good), but it is not that kind of film. What is delightful is that it has some unexpected twists and turns, including a cameo performance from the legendary Dick Van Dyke.

Basic plotline: cuckoo in the nest pubescent boy who seems to always have bad days while the rest of his family have perfect ones, wishes his family they could experience a little of what happens to him. And they do... big time! Cue silly moments involving a disastrous driving exam, a drunk Peter Pan & a green marker pen that may to may not be poisonous... It's fun.


The lesson of this film is a very, very simple one: we can all have bad days but it is what you do with them that matters. All (well, almost all perhaps) bad days can be turned into good ones by a combination of grit, team work & loyalty, and a sense of abandon (in for a penny... etc) And the magical "when it's over, it's over... but not until then".

Leaders (and in the case of this film, there are three) have a critical role to play in this creating the environment in which such learning (or what to do with bad days) can occur. Leaders must show their capacity to do this and praise others for doing it too. Leaders also have the responsibility to make it OK for people to make mistakes and have a bad day, sometimes. It is a critical!

When was the last bad day that you had... what did you do with it? And what/who helped you to do that?

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This is the sixtieth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Zig zagging through love and life

Say When (or Laggies as it is known in the US) wasn't quite the film I was expecting... For a start, I didn't know that it was set in Seattle and Kiera Knightly has an American accent. I spent a good portion of the film wondering where it was going, but maybe that was the point..?

This romcom breaks quite a few rules. For example it mixes 20 something romantic dilemmas with teen something ones in a way I have not met before. It is a cute film, it will keep you guessing, and it will challenge you to wonder about relationships as all good romcoms do. So, I am not very wild about the movie but if you're a Kiera fan (as I am), you will enjoy this.


This is a film about someone finding herself after she realises that she is suddenly out of kilter with the world she inhabits. So she goes to inhabit another world for a short while, to give her a fresh perspective. Although, that is not quite what happens, as the main character's experience is not linear in the narrative. It jumps around.

And I was left feeling that isn't that what life is like anyway? Leaders may like to pretend that improvement and change are linear and progressive but actually it is usually a question of 3 steps forward and 2 steps back in a different direction. So good leaders are flexible and light on their feet, while being patient enough to know that change zig zags around. The general direction is what is important not the specific steps.

When did you last zig zag?
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This is the fifty ninth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Somewhere, over the horizon...

I went to see InterStellar expecting to be impressed and delighted with a well made film. I was a little anxious about the 169 minute length. I didn't expect to be blown away by the scale, depth and sheer bloomin' humanity of this movie. I cannot praise it highly enough. You must, must, must see this film!! This is a movie I will be telling my grandchildren to watch (when I have some and they have reached a suitable age!)

From one perspective, this is a very straightforward film with a very simple story. From another angle, it is as rich, satisfying and complex as Midsummer Night's Dream, 2001, Mary Poppins, and Dr Zhivago all rolled into one. An unforgettable epic which will change you.


Leaders often talk about a going on a journey as a metaphor for change or transformation. Indeed, I cut my organisational development teeth using the book written by my then boss called "The Journey to Excellence". It is an evocative and practical metaphor.

But as in this film, leadership is not really a journey around the stars, or from A to B. It is in fact, no journey at all because leadership happens inside us. Like the spaceship in the film, leadership is about spinning: turning ourselves around, weaving new perspectives and going deeper... if we allow ourselves to do so.

What is spinning inside you right now?

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This is the fifty eighth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Letting go of secrets & lies...

What We Did on Our Holiday is a peach of a movie. Building on the winning formula of Outnumbered, where children take a central role in the humorous narrative, this is a film to delight, entrance, move and generally make you laugh out loud. I giggled & chortled through most of this film. And when I wasn't doing either, I was probably shedding a few tears. This is a rich and warm film: as beautiful and powerful as the highlands of Scotland.

The film is about how adults teach children to tell the truth yet all the while drawing them in to our untruths, secrets and lies. Billy Connolly plays the kind of grandfather that every child should have: funny, adoring and above all, truth telling. And you will have to see the film to understand how much the children believe him and believe in him. This film will charm you. (PS and if Andy Hamilton doesn't get a knighthood soon, there is no justice in the honours system!)


This may not be an exact quote, but at one point in the film Gordie (Connolly) says that not all parts of life should be written down as it doesn't help. He is making the point that some things should not be documented. To this I would add, not all things should be recorded either.

Over the weekend I was having a debate about people's rights to privacy and how we are creating a world in which some of our most intimate and now even most tragic parts of human life are subject to youtube scores, facebook likes or retweeting. We need to be sure that what we record (and especially make digital) is going to add to the world not subtract from it. Leadership is about making those fine judgments too: when is it right to move past things and allow them to disappear like a puff of smoke... and when not to do this...

What do you record? What do you let slip away?

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This is the fifty seventh of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Going, going, gone... girl

Gone Girl will keep you guessing until the end and then even beyond! It is one of those films that will grip you and fling you around like dog with a stick. At various points you might speculate that you have an idea what is going to happen, but you will be wrong, so wrong!

This is a slick movie with some fine scripting and smooth, very cool acting. Watch the eyes of the main characters especially: they tell the real story of what is happening all along. Even though it is two and half hours, this will pass by in minutes and you will be left wondering why you did not finish your popcorn... This is a film to go and see!


Gone Girl is all about image and how image can destroy you or uplift you. Some people seem to think that leadership can also be a stage act. Wear the right clothes, put on the right face, take the right stimulants and it's showtime folks! But what the film also shows is that image is a very fragile thing.

Appearance and the appearance of confidence matter. Of course they do. But they can only take you so far. Good leadership has substance that is far more than skin deep. Leaders have to look beyond their own mirrors.

What are you reflecting on today?

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This is the fifty sixth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.