Career Lessons From ‘The Martian’

While recently re-watching the hit movie ‘The Martian‘ on HBO (nominated for 7 Oscars), I once again marveled at the technical achievements detailed during the movie. I couldn’t help think about the positive messages the movie brings to mind as it relates to someones technical career. There are certain things this movie should tell you about the perfect workplace, and I hope I wasn’t the only one to pickup on the clues. There may be spoilers ahead, but this movie almost one year old by now.

I don’t want to review too many story elements here, but the main character Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) gets to know adversity really well over the course of the movie. Long story short, he is presumed dead and left on Mars. He is initially unable to contact NASA, and having almost no food supplies he struggles to survive just one more day.

What we see in the movie is an example workplace that mobilizes all possible ideas and talents to do whatever it takes to save the valuable life of an astronaut and return everyone safely back to earth. There are specific skills shown in this movie that are applicable to your company.

  1. Teamwork – While the astronauts find one hurdle after another to their safe return to earth, they constantly work as a team to identify the best possible course of action, regardless of how it will look to their boss or to the public. It is something that is usually an undervalued skill in today’s workplace. Politics and favoritism is often more prevalent than working as a team for what is best for the customers and company. Building a great team is usually the best way to get a tough job done.
  2. Logical Processes – Don’t panic and keep thinking. As problems are discovered, you have to work through them, one at a time until all issues are resolved. Giving up or allowing panic to overcome your emotions is not a solution when you are facing a life threatening crisis. This movie shows how logical thinking and refusing to accept the possibility of failure keeps our hero alive and allows him to succeed. When putting together your technical team, encourage logic and calm thinking even in a crisis. Value someone with possible solutions over someone who wants to tell you why something can’t be done.
  3. Diversity – One clear message from the movie is diversity of life experiences can lead different minds to develop alternate outcomes to the same problem. As one character couldn’t see a solution to a problem, another character with a different life experience or alternate point of view was able to suggest solutions or tweaks to selected solutions to make the impossible possible. You need to make sure your build your team with people of different backgrounds, both male and female, to make sure your team can tackle any crisis with a wide array of ideas and possible solutions. The team must also feel comfortable in shouting out ideas without a worrying that their ideas are considered unimportant or will not be taken seriously.
  4. Encourage Positivity – While our movie characters have every reason to collapse into depression and negative thinking, they instead refuse to surrender to defeat. They use a combination of intelligence, logical thinking, relentless determination, and even humor to confront the crisis of a lifetime and eventually overcome all problems. This a two-way street between the crisis unfolding on Mars, as well as the team attempting to help from earth. The characters remain professional and never lose sight of the real problems over unprofessional emotional responses or useless arguments or even bickering. You need to make sure you encourage a positive approach to any crisis, without allowing negativity during even the most stressful events. Lead by example. If a crisis gets too much for you to handle with grace and professionalism, then you know you must immediately do something to reduce the stress level for your team.
  5. Be Happy – Even while stranded on Mars, Watney still finds time to enjoy being the first person on Mars to do just about everything he does to stay alive. He isn’t glad about being stranded on Mars, but he comes to understand how the work he was doing was important to him and mankind. While you might be stuck in the middle of a crisis, finding the positive aspects about the outcome or the new skills you are having to learn can be a great way to handle the stress and put a positive spin on the stressful events. While your crisis will rarely serve mankind, it can have a positive impact on your customers, company, and your team. Your technical crisis might just be a failed server, but the actions you take and the things you learn in real-time during the crisis can make a future server failure less likely and the response from your team will be better and faster if it does happen again.

If you haven’t seen the movie, please watch it now. While you watch the movie you can watch it as a training movie to show the viewer how to be a better problem-solver and team-builder.







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