Tag Archives: Galaxy Quest

Leadership Lessons from Galaxy Quest (Friday Afternoon edge-taker)

Friday afternoon…time to take the edge off the week.

I’ve written before that, as a veteran of many a leadership course–can’t you tell?, I grew quite tired of having to draw leadership lessons from required viewings of war movies. (Henry V is always a favorite here, although to be fair that is one of the more nuanced of the lot.) And I offered up that it would be great fun to work up a leadership seminar based on the movie Galaxy Quest, a sendup of the Star Trek genre. (For those of you who don’t know the movie, well first shame on you, but it features Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub and several others. They play the actors of a Star Trek-like TV series who many years later make their living by attending fan shows. The problem occurs when the group of actors meet up with a distant alien population, the Thermians, who understood the old TV shows to be historic documents. When these pacific people are threatened by a belligerent enemy planet, they build out all the technology exhibited in Galaxy Quest for real but now need the experienced crew, i.e. the actors, to make it all work correctly. Here’s the trailer.) (It looks like the whole movie is currently available on YouTube, cut up into scenes, if you’ve never seen it.)

So the clips available (legally) are limited, but the clip below actually captures one of my favorite leadership moments. Tony Shalhoub, who plays the engineer “Scotty” character–Tech Sgt. Chen, has been asked to help the gentle Thermians with their engineering problems. The Shalhoub character’s only real expertise, however, is eating, but watch how he engages the Thermians with his questions to draw out the answers they don’t know they already have. So here you see the importance, as a leader, of listening, asking the right questions, and encouraging your colleagues to think for themselves. This has the extra benefit of being a scene cut from the movie, so even if you’re a Galaxy Quest fan you haven’t seen this scene before. (You only need to watch the first scene in this clip, but you may enjoy the others. The clip does seem to play slow most times, but usually plays better if you click through to YouTube itself.)

There are many other wonderful lessons in the movie about the importance of being corny and emotional as a leader and about how a group of selfish actors become a selfless team. Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a hacker to isolate the scenes. But maybe some day, when I’m a high-priced consultant and can afford the film rights…

Happy Weekend!!!

The Swamp of Inertia

This retired life takes a little getting used to, in a good way of course. One important missing factor is the structure you get from work life. You know when you’re supposed to awaken, when to brush your teeth, when to get dressed. When we work a normal 40-hour week, we have these instances scheduled down to the minute because, in the DC area and I imagine most metropolitan areas, it matters dearly in terms of traffic whether you leave the house at 736 am or 747 am.

So I’m using my blog to put a little bit of structure around my mornings. I have an unmanageably long list of blogs and other websites that I would like to check on a regular basis, and every morning I start down that list until I’m waylaid by wanting to share something interesting I’ve read. Both today and yesterday the ambush occurred at Blog Stop #1.

Thinking back on most of the change initiatives with which I’ve been involved, they’re not blocked by some counteroffensive or a better idea. Instead, they usually just sludge to a dead stop in the Swamp of Inertia. In fact, I don’t know anything that bureaucracies are better at than producing swamps of inertia. They’re everywhere. Arlene Goldbard, who writes on culture, politics, and spirituality, describes in her most recent posting the psychological conditions prevalent in these swamps:

…the fear of alignment with a lost cause, of failing or looking foolish; the irrational conviction that we know the future and it’s against us; anger and resentment at indifference to injustice; all of that baked into a pièce de résistance that keeps us from trying—thus fulfilling the proposition that trying isn’t worth the effort.

So what techniques can you use to cross the swamp? One is to detach your ego from the success of your project. This is hard but remember it is usually personal disappointment, anger, and frustration that lead the change advocates to commit professional suicide and/or abandon their ideas–which, intended or not, is the objective of the swamp creatures, uh, I mean creators. Another is to stay as close as you can to the high ground as you maneuver the swamp. One high ground technique is not to advertise your project as a change initiative. I always resisted the idea of giving a project a high-falutin’ name, like Horizons or Tempest or Earthquake. It always struck me this was 1. an ego-trip; 2. an unnecessary bid for attention; and 3. a surefire way of making it easy for people to remember you if the project failed. And a final way to battle the swamp of inertia is persistence. As the great leadership film Galaxy Quest declares: “Never give up!! Never Surrender.”

I know I’ve given the discussion of crossing the swamp short shrift, but, really, I need to go brush my teeth.

(Originally I thought of calling this post the Inertia Swamp. (I know, only someone who spent almost 25 years editing others’ work would fret about the difference.) But I settled on the Swamp of Inertia because it had a better rhythm. This reminded me of the names real estate developers give to their fancy suburbs which, if they want to affect a particularly high tone, always involve a preposition. So in San Antonia, for example, you don’t see Stone Oak Hills, you see the Hills of Stone Oak. The Highlands of Stone Oak.  Or one of my favorites in northern Virgina, L’ambiance of McLean. Obvious bonus points there for using French. But I digress…)