Saturday, February 13, 2010

Everything I know about Career Advancement, I learned from watching... Robocop

As a serious fan of movies I love it when I watch something very familiar and gleen something new from the viewing, like some obscure detail in a scene that adds a new dimension to the story. Recently I caught an airing of Robocop on the TV - which is a classic example of once again watching a film I have on DVD just because it's that good.

...from the director of gems like "Showgirls" and "Hollow Man"

As I watched this classic piece of 80's sci-fi my mind drifted to the different things that films can teach us. Some movies are pure entertainment, some tell a story that needs to be told and some, like horror films (I'm a huge fan of horror movies) are actually modern day morality plays designed to teach the audience serious lessons (teen slasher flicks usually preach about the dangers of drink, drugs, and promiscuity - check out Scream for an overview of this and Halloween to see it in action).

At its core Robocop (1987) is about humanity, though there are subtexts about technology, greed, corruption, and the absence of an afterlife. For those unfamiliar with the flick, here is a brief synopsis:

In the not too distant future crime is rampant in the city of Detroit (kinda like it is today). Things have gotten so bad that a large private organisation has bought up most of the land around the city and is about to commence building a whole new city. In order to facilitate their little scheme they've taken over the running of the police force and haven't really been playing fair in terms of industrial relations with the boys in blue, having run the force down to the point where they're about to go on strike. The company behind the new city - OCP - are beginning to turn their attention to making sure the big local crime problem doesn't follow them into their new city, so their security division, headed up by hard boiled executive Dick Jones, have designed and built a badass robotic killing machine that can be programmed to be a cop or, more suitably, setup for military use.

Dick Jones and the ED-209 - OCP's answer to the iPod

However, Jones' department are more concerned with selling spare parts for a massive profit then ensuring their product actually works, and at the unveiling of the new device the ED-209 kills a member of the OCP board. Sensing an opportunity, Bob Morton, a subordinate of Dick Jones, suggests that a project he's been working on might be a suitable alternative. Given his chance, Morton puts his "Robocop" plan in motion.

It turns out that Robocop is to be a cyborg (basically a robot with bits of person built in) and the human pieces are to come from a police officer. A fine example of a police officer who'd be an ideal candidate for the Robocop programme (if something unfortunate should happen to him) is Alex Murphy, newly reassigned to the most dangerous precint in Detroit. On his first day in the new job Murphy and his partner run afoul of arch-crook Clarence Boddicker and his gang, who are just after making their getaway from a robbery. Murphy is killed in the line of duty and thus "volunteers" to become Robocop.

Robocop is a huge success and a great piece of PR for OCP, going around town taking out the bad guys. Bob Morton, riding on the success of his project, is promoted and is enjoying the high-life. His formor boss, Jones, is not one bit happy with this turn of events and it becomes apparent that he and Boddicker (renowed cop-killer, drug dealer, and bad-egg) are in cahoots. Jones sends Boddicker round to Morton's place one night to kill him before setting out to take down Robocop too.

Remove the "Jones" and this shirt gets you in serious bother!

There are many points of interest in this film but he single most important lesson to take from Robocop is this - before you make a move on anything (especially something like taking advantage of a promotion opportunity when someone else has messed up), be absolutely certain, absolutely, totally, and utterly, CERTAIN that you have all the relevant information in your possession before you open your mouth never mind do anything!

Bob Morton was missing an important fact about his boss Dick Jones. Morton thought that Jones was just another hard boiled executive type, a boardroom warrior and tough nut at work, but probably just another prick behind it all. What Bob didn't know was that Dick Jones was mates with Clarence Boddicker - notorious Cop killer and all-round vagabond. This little nugget of information would probably have led Bob to keeping his trap shut after the ED-209 demo and therefore would likely have saved his life, nevermind his career.

Bob Morton - if he knew what we knew he'd 'ave stayed stchum, y'know?

The fact that Morton didn't know about his boss' friends is no real surprise, how many of us can say we know everything about any of our colleagues, or in some cases, anything? In the real world this lack of knowledge is probably not going to result in the same consequences poor old Bob suffered but it highlights how necessary it is to be informed. Most people know that information is power, but how seriously is this considered? On a personal level, this is a situation dealt with by working at developing relationships in the workplace with our colleagues as opposed to just putting up with them during the day because you have to (like wearing a tie).

Beyond being buddies with the person in the cubicle beside you a little simple observation goes a long way. A friend of mine was telling me recently about a book he read on the subject of luck. A series of experiments were conducted with people who described themselves as either lucky or unlucky and the experiment that stuck in my friends mind involved sticking £5 (it was in the UK) to the door of a cafe with a note saying to take the money. The lucky and unlucky people were sent into the cafe one at a time. The lucky people all took the money while the unlucky ones didn't. When they investigated why this happened, the people running the experiment discovered something interesting about the "unlucky" people - they hadn't seen the money! They didn't need to visit the optician, they needed to be more observant.

Keeping an eye out means that you can not only spot an opportunity but can also know enough about all the factors to be able to make a good decision. The counterpoint to this is the "Analysis Paralysis" problem, whereby no one wants to make a decision as they believe they're still lacking information. Decisiveness is necessary to get anything done but a little critical thought can save a lot of trouble later on. If only poor Bob Morton had noticed that Detroit's most wanted was calling in to see his boss every now and then (enough times for Jones' PA to recognise Boddicker), he might have saved himself a lot of bother.

Bob Morton - Watching me, Watching you

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