“You can’t handle the truth!” (film clip link)
The truth can be a tricky thing
Before we explore the impact that the well known scene from A Few Good Men had on me with regard to learning, it may be helpful to explore my first tricky encounter with “the truth”. You see, my Mother’s primary quality was to teach us to do what was right. For example, she told us “no matter what, always tell the truth.” My Father’s primary quality was to make us laugh… all the time. Sometimes his humor was slightly off color, even when we were little kids. These two qualities occasionally came in conflict. The first time that I ever got in trouble in school was a week after my Father taught me a few German words. And it was the same week that my Mother taught us to always tell the truth.
It was in Mrs. Sheibal’s first grade class at Tatem Elementary School. She asked the class if anyone knew how to speak a foreign language. I was quite proud that I was the only kid in the class with his hand raised. “Very good, Dougie Clayton, please share with the class what language you know.” I stood up next to my little desk and said in my high pitched voice, “My Father taught me how to speak German. I can say Ja, which means Yes. I can say Nein, which means no. I can say Rouse, which means Get Out. I can say Mach Schnell, which means Hurry Up.” Verrrrryyyyy, good, Dougie. We’re all very proud of you, aren’t we class?” “Yes, teacher” said my little classmates. Before I sat down, I said, “Mrs. Sheibal, I also know how to say Shizen in zee Lederhosen.” Mrs. Sheibal said, “Hmmmm, Shizen in zee Lederhosen. That has such a nice sound. Class, let’s all say Shizen in zee Lederhosen.” The class repeated in perfect unison, “Shizen in zee Lederhosen…. Shizen in zee Lederhosen.” Mrs. Sheibal asked, “Dougie, what does Shizen in zee Lederhosen mean?” I said, “My father told me that Shizen in zee Lederhosen means ‘Shit In Your Leather Pants’.” Shortly after Mrs. Sheibal’s mouth dropped open, I began the first of many long, lonely walks down the hall to Mr. Shearer’s Principal’s Office, preceded with the often repeated words, “Douglas Clayton, leave the classroom immediately and go visit the Principal’s Office.”
A seed was planted in 1994
Thirty years later, in 1994, Jerry Jacobs, an executive with a large, global financial services firm headquartered in North America, broadcast a scene from the popular film A Few Good Men during a leadership meeting. In this famous scene, Colonel Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) is interrogated to his breaking point by young, upstart lawyer Lieutenant Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise). The use of this film clip in the meeting had a profound impact on the forty managers who attended the meeting. Even though I did not attend the meeting, I heard about the use of this scene from colleagues who were there, and my perception of the scene’s impact on participants sitting in that darkened room has stayed with me for the past 22 years. This scene remains the single most compelling remnant of that leadership meeting. I have read over the PowerPoint slides from the presentations at that meeting, yet I cannot remember a single point, concept, or company deliverable these slides intended to communicate to employees. Yet, 22 years later, whenever I watch A Few Good Men, I think of Jerry Jacobs and the message he wanted to get across. Through this use of film, Jacobs made it very clear to the mangers of his firm that they were going to learn something important about the risky state of the company; they were going to hear the truth.
What does it mean?
As mentioned in the previous blog, the experience of watching the original King Kong with my family initiated my love of movies. Some of you blogged your most memorable, early film watching experiences such as Song of the South, Wizard of Oz, Alien, The Thing, War of the World, and the Gidget series to name a few.
Moving our discussion toward film and adult learning, A Few Good Men is what really got me thinking about the value of using film clips in corporate meetings and eventually training. This also led me to experiment with using existing film clips and actually making films to share with working colleagues during training sessions. We’ll cover examples in more detail in the coming blogs. Until then, if you have a moment, we’d love it if you would share an example or two of films or clips that were used for the purpose of teaching or reinforcing an idea. And remember, always tell the truth, but, feel free to pepper it with a good dose of humor. Just be careful if you’re wearing Lederhosen.