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Learning From The Movies

by Tom O'Connor on March 2nd, 2012
Actor-director team Robert De Niro & Martin Scorsese on set in Goodfellas

Actor-director team Robert De Niro & Martin Scorsese on the set of Goodfellas

Movie clips can be a wonderful adjunct to individual coaching and/or leadership development workshops – when an aptly chosen character portrayal (succinctly) dramatises some key skill.

I’ve written of some personal favourites (in the realm of negotiation skills) in previous blogs:

    – Pride As A Negotiation Pitfall

    – Women Make Better Negotiators

    – Streetwise Tactical Negotiation.

Learning from the movies – the advantages
The utility of this approach to learning is twofold.

First, one benefits from having the subtleties and nuances, involved in whatever skill/behaviour being featured, uniquely illuminated in the masterly hands of some of the world’s greatest directors – Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarentino, Hitchcock, etc.

(And, you ask yourself: why mess with amateur role-plays, when you can call on this line-up of assistants!)

Second, because we’re all so attracted to the big screen,  we effortlessly get sucked in to the learning topic – leading to very high levels of engagement,  analysis & discussion among learners.

Learning from the movies – accurate portrayals
Detractors may scoff that fictional movie scenes (especially those drawn from the old black & white classics) can’t really be very relevant to the leadership skills demanded of the current day workplace.

But, fundamentally, great writers and directors are the most fastidious observers of real life – their powers of perception often underlying the sublime artistic skills they bring to chiselling out some universal/essential meaning on screen.

Emerson’s words put it well:

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”

And Wilde too:

“Art imitates life more than life imitates art.”

Never mind Margaret Thatcher’s endorsement of the BBC sitcom, Yes Minister, as:

“a most accurate portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power”.

And, some directors go to no end to get it right, as when Samuel Goldwyn famously offered Sigmund Freud $100,000 in 1925 to consult on a film he was making – such was the importance he placed on ensuring that his on-screen character depictions were psychologically accurate.

Learning from the movies – the challenges
That said, one has also to acknowledge the many challenges to be managed in using movies as learning tools:

Copyright.  Film clips are covered by copyright. Thus, except in special cases, permission has to be got in advance from the copyright owner for any group screening.

Relevance.  Whatever segment one wishes to highlight, it’s relevance has to be immediately explicit – not requiring learners to search for analogies or intuitive leaps to see the meaning.

Logistics of use.  One has to decide on how best to deploy to minimise disturbance. If screening a clip during a live training or coaching session, one has to put a lot of preparation into ensuring the setup is crisp and glitch-free.

Taste Considerations.  Any clip used has to be carefully checked to ensure that it doesn’t give offfence. Behaviour or language that  may be quite acceptable in the cinema can be sometimes out of place in a meeting or classroom.

Diversity Sensitivities.  Any clips with undertones, no matter how tangential or innocent, relating to particular ethnic or socio-economic groups, gender classifications/orientations, political/religious persuasions, etc, should be avoided.

Length of Segment. 
Watching a video is largely a passive activity, one should seek brevity at all costs.

Learning from the movies – opens minds
Still, in spite of these health warnings, it is hard to think of any other learning/coaching tool that so easily facilitates reaction & discussion among learners.

This is something to which psychotherapists have long cottoned – as popularised in the catchy-titled 1998 book: Rent Two Movies & Let’s Talk In The Morning.

For, like case studies, their most obvious written equivalent, movies offer a safe (third-party) medium to explore aspects of our own behaviour with which we might be very slow otherwise to engage.

In this regard, learning facilitators/coaches should look on movies more as tools to open the mind of the learner than to directly impart information per se.

Or, in the words of Sam Goldwyn himself, to:

“Go see it and see for yourself why you shouldn’t go see it.”

PS. To request details on Torc courses, using this Learning From The Movies©   approach, please leave a message in the comment box below. Examples include:

1. Learning From The Movies© – Management Supervisory Skills
2. Learning From The Movies© – Change Management Skills
3. Learning From The Movies© – Emotional Intelligence Skills
4. Learning From The Movies© – Negotiation Skills

One Response to “Learning From The Movies”

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