Lights, Camera, Drucker!

Posted on Nov 30, 2012 | 4 Comments

In Adventures of a BystanderPeter Drucker wrote, “The Hollywood life has never been for me.”

Perhaps that’s one reason why, although he spent decades living within easy driving distance of the major film studios of Los Angeles, Drucker wrote little about business practices within the entertainment industry.

But Drucker did recognize the power of Hollywood to shape our thinking and perception of the world, especially since, as he noted in Managing in Turbulent Times, “movie and radio have . . . penetrated and transformed lives far more drastically than the railroad transformed the lives of people in the 19th century.”

And so it is that Drucker’s good friend, the leadership expert Warren Bennis, wrote this week in Bloomberg Businessweek that the best of the silver screen can offer a valuable education.

“Over the past 50 years or so, I’ve studied leaders of all types, from military generals to CEOs and politicians,” Bennis explained. “And being based near Hollywood at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, I’ve taken a special interest in movies and television and what I could learn about leadership from observing directors.” Bennis cited The King’s Speech (2010) and The Candidate (1972) as particular favorites.

Drucker himself wrote, albeit dismissively, of popular conceptions of entrepreneurship being based, in part, on “the entrepreneur of . . . Hollywood movies, the person who suddenly has a ‘brilliant idea’ and rushes off to put it into effect.” And he wrote, more respectfully, of Charlie Chaplin and his movie Modern Times, which “gave artistic expression to the protest of human creativity and human dignity against that regimentation of traditional organization.”

Ben Turpin and Charlie Chaplin. Image source: John McNab

Of course, Drucker also felt it was important to remember that heroic life looks different from heroic cinema. As he wrote in Landmarks of Tomorrow, “everyone is an understudy to the leading role in the drama of human destiny” and the “great roles are not written in the iambic pentameter or the Alexandrine of the heroic theater.” They are, instead, “prosaic—played out in one’s daily life, in one’s work, in one’s citizenship, in one’s compassion or lack of it, in one’s courage to stick on an unpopular principle, and in one’s refusal to sanction man’s inhumanity to man in an age of cruelty and moral numbness.”

Which movies do you think offer the most valuable lessons—by either positive or negative example—about effective management?


  1. Scott T. Barnes
    December 1, 2012

    As a science fiction/fantasy writer myself I think a lot about what themes and lessons can be effectively told through story. The first thing to keep in mind is that fiction is not life; it is a metaphor for life. I believe that what can be conveyed effectively are the values that contribute to a successful leader, and those that doom the leader to failure. For example, The Avengers clearly advocates teamwork as necessary to handle evil, while most superhero movies show the hero as a loner who works best alone. (Ridiculous for actual warfare or police work, but effective in creating tension.)

    The most effective move that comes to mind is an old classic which was originally a play still produced on Broadway on occasion called Command Decision. It involves the Army Air Corps in WWII attempting to knock out Germany’s budding jet engine production. Management, leadership and values are all put to the test as Congress demands lower casualties from the air missions (called “milk runs,” they had few casualties but no effectiveness, so were a waste of life and effort) and the commander’s own future son-in-law becomes a pilot under his command. It’s a great story, and one of many war movies which offer interesting lessons in management.

  2. Mike Grayson
    December 1, 2012

    The movie “Saving Private Ryan” offered amazing insights into challenge and heroism.

    Opening with the grinding scene of the invasion of Normandy, we see the chaos of the environment break down the organization and discipline of training, only to see the discipline and training reconstitute itself when a few brave souls get control of the situation.

    The the dedication to duty by Captain Miller, a model for any officer to follow, who takes dangerous assignments and “inspires” his men to follow him into the teeth of death is nothing less than amazing. His men trust him and have confidence in his skill and wisdom – a lesson for all of us to learn from.

  3. Greg Zerovnik
    December 1, 2012

    In terms of how a good leader-manager should behave, and given the time of year, I vote for Jimmie Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He is intelligent, compassionate, and persistent. Despite adversity, he overcomes the challenges thrown at him and succeeds in great part because of the team assembled around him who prove to be loyal and engaged on behalf of the enterprise. What more could you want?

  4. Alba Patricia Valencia
    December 1, 2012

    The theater of life is the best example about that. Our life is an example valuable of effective management.

    At the moment, our world has marvelous discoveries, knowledge, tools and technology also we have a turbulent world.

    In turbulence times, we should be effective management. I have put to practice four tips. I have had to create a strategic approach and I have had to be an effective thinker. In addition, I am ready to surprise and I have reduced the risks.

    El teatro de la vida es el mejor ejemplo acerca de eso. Nuestra vida es un valioso ejemplo de gestión eficaz.

    En este momento, nuestro mundo tiene maravillosos descubrimientos, herramientas, conocimiento y tecnología, pero también tenemos un mundo turbulento.

    En tiempos de turbulencia, nosotros debemos tener una gestión eficaz. Yo he puesto en práctica cuatro puntos. He creado un enfoque estratégico con pensamiento eficaz. Adicionalmente, estoy dispuesta a sorprenderme y he reducido al mínimo los riesgos.


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