I went to Mars recently …
Well, actually, I went along for an exciting tour of Mars, along with a truly spine-tingling trip back to earth. The Martian provides more than its fair share of exciting and scary moments … and does so without tentacled monsters, nasty aliens, or evil overlords.
Along the way, I learned some things about leadership, resilience, and learning.
LEADERSHIP MATTERS … whether you direct a large group or are just managing yourself.
Whether your leadership is to help a group struggling against desperate odds to carry out a difficult task or you are motivating yourself to do more than you thought you could, how you approach motivating self and others to do something is important.
One self-leader was the earth man suddenly and completely stranded on a sort of hostile planet all by himself. Mark Watney (played superbly by Matt Damon) is a surprisingly down-to-earth hero, who displays creativity and fortitude in a situation which would have many of us searching for some heavy blankets to hide under.
Others displayed the traditional and familiar type of authoritative leader, who exercised authority and control over others, while balancing oppositional needs and making the hard decisions. Jeff Daniel’s portrayal of Teddy Sanders, the NASA head who struggled with conflicting practical and emotional concerns, was the shining example of the type of leadership many of us experience, at a less intense level.
A third type of leadership arose around the stranded person’s fellow crew members, who had a hierarchical leader, but also exhibited different interaction styles as they made a truly consensual decision of great import. Each character was carefully drawn as real people, albeit real smart and in-shape people, who faced a problem with implications beyond simple failure.
BONUS: Sacrificial leadership was exhibited by Sean Bean, playing against his usual physical and violent characterizations. He subtly underplayed the role of Mitch Henderson, the NASA engineer who did the right thing, helped save the day, but resulted in the end of his career. Sometimes a leader has to pay the cost for an act of heroism ...
THE UNIVERSE DOES NOT HAVE TO INCLUDE MONSTERS … at least not the usual Hollywood type.
This film did not rely on fabricated or theatrical enemies to build the tension. They created a “Do or Die” situation simply by using physics and reality to construct a terrifying situation based on nature’s continual habit of acting in accordance with natural laws.
I thought this film did a nice job of reminding us that we need not seek monsters of our imagination, when they inhabit our daily efforts to simply exist.
Mark Watney: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” (IMDB)
STEM EDUCATION IS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT THAN I THOUGHT …
We are reading much about how important STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is to our future as people, employees, citizens, and planetary inhabitants.
No doubt should exist in most minds that 1) these subjects are both painfully absent or weak in many people’s educational portfolio and 2) Fixing this gap is essential to our survival in any world, since worlds tend to run according to their own rules, rather than ours.
The Martian works on a number of levels.
The types of leadership and team interaction struck me as pretty close, on a less intense level, to what most of us engage in every day. Lessons abound here about the value of open and clear communication, critical thinking, and respect as the foundation for effective team performance.
Wondering how I can learn more about how my ecosystem works in the Heartland ….
NOTE: Yes, I know that some have debunked various bits of scientific accuracy depicted in the film. The criticisms seem minor and I care far more that they tried to, and came much closer than most films, to showing us realistic situations.