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The Intentional Organisation - Issue #26 - Let's Look Up!
1. Let's Look Up!
Don’t Look Up is for sure one of the most widely debated movies of recent time. In terms of content, the movie has been defined as a “lousy allegory” of Climate Change by Eric Levitz in New York Magazine.
A movie with such an A-list cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyler Perry, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance and Timothée Chalamet was built to attract a vast audience and extensive discussions. However, Rotten Tomatoes has a low aggregated rating of 55. But non-professional critics are more willing, and although it can be heavy-handed with its messaging, Don’t Look Up tackles important subjects with humour and heart.
Don't Look Up is an artful combination of hilarious and deeply disturbing, mainly because the most dysfunctional reactions to the news somehow seem very believable
Indeed, the movie manages to be a thorough portrait of today’s decadence, up to the point that some critics have been suggesting a second cut alternative script.
Don’t Look Up probably will become “the” Movie of 2021 because it managed to tell us, and also make us laugh, about current global emergencies, starting from the discredit of politics and information.
Three things we should “look up” to.
As with many mainstream “pop” phenomena, I am always curious to see how much we can learn (and derive). This movie offers a platform for reflection on at least three topics relating to communication, leadership and the role of expertise, all elements that affect organisation design and that we should always consider.
The first and most prominent message that this movie carries is about the obstacles in the way of fact-based communications. However, in the film, a central message is the opposite: the social spread of non-facts.
It’s interesting to notice that the movie script dates back to 2019, before the COVID pandemic started.
The notion that a threat as immediate and universally menacing as a descending comet could become culture-war fodder — thereby turning the mere act of “looking up” into a litmus test for partisan allegiance — is a bit too plausible at a time when anti-vaxx identity politics has pushed U.S. COVID deaths over the 800,000 mark.
As such, Don’t Look Up highlights the ongoing problem: We don’t want to listen. We want to be right. Not something that we should limit to the frivolously depicted America of the Movie.
The risks at stake are high; beware, the movie highlights several biases present in the communication that we do every day in and outside organisations that we should consider.
There is a solid anti-intellectual bias currently in place, and it is starting to affect organisations, sometimes also in a more obscure, anti-management bias. So even though we do recognise that management needs to change, we can’t simply throw it off-board without building an alternative.
We need to be wary that communicating negative news stifles understanding, for example, through conservative bias and the idea of simply not accepting the drastic emotional drain that change brings.
This calls for the second topic that the movie helps us focus on: the Role of Leadership in today's world.
The movie depicts two types of dysfunctional leadership that are pervasive in today's narrative.
The first one is Isherwell, played by Rylance, who represents the Tech Hero Money Genius, an aggregation of characteristics encompassing Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. He has no inner life and plays on the side rules of the market, thanks to a power based on the social reach of its digital product.
The second is an abysmally incompetent, self-centred U.S. president, brilliantly interpreted by Meryl Streep, who assigns equally incapable, self-absorbed people to head up critical tasks and agencies. The focus on election and polls makes the president select only the option that best echoes her following, often focusing on the communication then the message itself. Which is the case when the apparent impact of the comet becomes visible in the sky, and she launches the slogan "Don't Look Up!" which gives the title to the movie.
The movie portrays a world in which a Political Leader cannot be disentangled from the social acceptance of its followership, up to the point of rejecting valid scientific truth that doesn't overcome the polarized views of the political system. Business Leaders are seen as ambivalent lobbyists, always owning a Plan B.
Despite the distorted views of Leaders, very present on any Social Media today, the key message from my point of view is that of a rigged Decision-Making process, too often subject to opinions rather than facts. Something that often happens also within organizations.
The Role of Expertise
The third lesson is directly linked to the context of last week's Newsletter and talks about the role of expertise. The movie illustrates a society where competency is disregarded, favouring social-media-based status.
When the journalists interview the scientists on a TV Show, or when the president mentions they have been meeting several times at the end of the world, everything is put in a context of relativity.
This is very dangerous as it also clearly represents the risks of a society that fails to grasp the role that basic competency plays in sustaining modern democracy. Therefore, we need to constantly focus on our organization design efforts: focusing on competencies required at any level within our companies. This includes all the training techniques, reskilling, upskilling, and continuously feeding the curiosity of people as the prime asset for our organization's success.
Conclusion: a tale of revolutionary actions
Towards the end of the movie, with the future looking grim, the scientists, along with family and friends, find themselves in an ordinary conversation about homemade versus store-bought apple pie and the benefits of grinding your coffee beans. DiCaprio's character pauses to say,
"The thing of it is, we really did have everything, didn't we? I mean, when you think about it."
This idea of Being Grateful and looking at what we have and making the most of it is a critical asset in today's world and most probably is also one of the elements that are shaping some of the decisions that many people are taking as they leave their current workplace.
If this is a powerful lesson, so it is the one deriving from another line that DiCaprio holds when he explodes with rage in the fictional morning TV shows, and wonders
"How do we even talk to each other? What have we done to ourselves? How do we fix it?"
If this somewhat echoes the 1976 Howard Beale from Network, his questions remain unanswered in the movie but are probably the key questions we need to address as leaders inside and outside our organisations.
Talking to each other and accepting what we have might very well be the two most revolutionary messages this movie leaves to us,
What do you think?
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