The previous blog presented evidence that film has a bigger impact on learning for participants in a classroom if the content is presented in something besides their mother tongue (we call this The Language Effect). The same global experiment also examined if there is a difference in learning by comparing people managers to individual contributors which we call ….
… The Leader Effect
There’s a terrific scene in the film “A Bronx Tale” where a mob boss gives a teenage protégé advice about girls: “You gotta do what your heart tells you to do. Let me tell you somethin’ right now. You’re only allowed three great women in your lifetime. They come along like the great fighters, every ten years. Rocky Marciano. Sugar Ray Robinson. Joe Louis. Sometimes you get ’em all at once. Me? I had my three when I was 16. That happens. What are you gonna do? That’s the way it goes, you know? Tell you right now. See this girl? Maybe this girl, she put wind in your sails. Maybe she’s your first great one.”
Same thing with leaders. I’ve had the good fortune of working for a bunch of effective bosses over the years. However, if we’re lucky, we may get a great one. My great one was Paula Fairley. She saved me.
I was fed up working for an abusive lunatic in the operations department of a mortgage banking firm. After being beat down and bullied for two years, my nerves were shot and I was getting ready to leave the company without a job waiting for me. Luckily, Paula, who I barely knew, saw something in me and asked me to transfer to Human Resources to recruit mortgage folks for 6 months. My response was “Why would I ever want to work in HR? What do you guys do there anyway?” She forgave me and piqued my curiosity by explaining all that is involved in the mysterious world of HR. I did what my heart told me to do and after my first month working for Paula, I knew HR was for me. Leaving the dark ages, I stepped into a great enlightenment, my Renaissance.
Working for Paula was not only a career changing experience, more importantly it was life enhancing. Unbeknownst to her, I couldn’t wait for our daily 1:1 meetings because I would always walk away a little smarter, a little more curious about life, and feeling more confident. I felt as if I was being baptized (she encouraged debates, so, at times it felt like baptism by fire) with her wisdom. And just as important, after feeling so down in my previous situation, I began feeling good about myself. She put wind back in my sails.
Paula took the time to mentor me so I could better understand the important elements of HR and, more importantly, people who come from various walks of life. Paula taught me about oppression as a model in our society (one group is “up” and one stays “down”). I came to understand that as a white, straight man, I never had to even think about what is was like to walk around in my skin because in our society, these three characteristics are “up” and unconsciously acceptable. An invaluable realization, conversely, was that being a person of color, gay, or a woman navigating the corporate world (and the broader world) requires more thought and carries more risk. I learned about the damaging, long-term effects to individuals, corporations, and to society caused by systemic racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia.
Paula had at least two rare combinations: she was both kind and fearless; she was both brilliantly innovative and tenacious when executing ideas. She never initiated a fight in work, but, she never backed down from anyone, including senior management. I always viewed her as a combination of Muhamad Ali and Michelangelo. She always floated like a butterfly, but could sting like a bee. She had the creative soul of an artist and could implement her vision. And no matter what I learned from Paula, without her ever having to whisper what was expected, I knew that I had a responsibility to help others in my HR role. This is what the great ones do: they teach and they inspire. They put wind in our sails.
What’s the connection to film and learning?
It has to do with leaders watching other known leaders on film. A few years ago my team conducted a global experiment with 339 participants in ten cities around the world. The experiment used film to support three important messages for groups of participants and no film for the same important messages for other groups.
Immediately after the workshops, participants completed a quiz asking them to list, based on memory, the important messages from featured leaders. In every instance, the scores coming from people managers who watched films of leaders delivering the messages show a statistically significant difference (higher) score boost compared to individual contributors (non people managers) who watched the same films.
Why do you think this happened?
I believe that the people managers’ higher recall scores with the three films featuring leaders may be related to their ability to naturally develop an emotional connection that is deeper than the individual contributors’ emotional connection. S.B. Merriam’s book Learning in Adulthood: a Comprehensive Guide suggests that learning activities express cognitive, emotional and social dimensions, which resonate with learners. The workshop’s learning activity of showing films that featured leaders provided an emotional and social connection that was deeper for the people managers than for the individual contributors.
This leader effect occurred because of the people managers’ ability to relate to the leaders appearing on the film due to their managerial responsibilities and because a higher percentage of the people managers, compared with individual contributors, have come in direct contact with the five leaders appearing on the three films.
Pedagogical and Life Implications
So, if you’re a training manager and you plan to use film, consider featuring known leaders in your organization who are respected. Preferably, those who are known to be one of the great ones.
I’m still not sure why Paula invested so much of her life knowledge in me. She probably felt sorry for me, maybe she believed in me, perhaps she wanted to improve at least one person in the world. Whatever the reason, I am forever grateful to Paula for helping me develop a deeper level of empathy which made me a more effective HR professional and, hopefully, a better person. As for leaders, she was my great one.
Do you have a great one in your life? If so, it would be cool if you share your experience on this blog.
The previous blog focused on a great time we had making a short film parodying James Bond to push a dry, corporate message about job competencies. The experience was personally enriching and got me really wondering if film could actually help folks learn. This blog will cover the topic of what we call ….
… The Language Effect
After the last blog, folks have shared stories that are quite interesting and connect to my experiences with film and learning. Take this story, for example, relayed by a fella named Ted Johnson that helps to emphasize the importance of language. Earlier in his career Ted had a unique opportunity to impress an influential European corporate leader. The U.S. based company that he worked for was acquired by a firm headquartered in Germany. The acquiring firm’s CEO, Herr Ferdinand von Meister, requested that an employee be granted a once in a lifetime chance to work closely with Ferdinand so he may gain an appreciation of what makes American employees tick, or as he said, “zick”. Von Meister told the HR leader that “zee preferred profile is someone who is an average employee, not a zuper star, not a high potential employee, not necessarily a strong performer, perhaps not even particularly bright.” Ted figured that he fit the profile because the following week he was on a flight to Germany for a six week gig. Mr. von Meister is quite brilliant, recognized as one of the top leaders in his industry, and speaks 4 languages, including English. However, before beginning the assignment, Ted discovered two important pieces of intel from his trusted co-worker Willy “The Weasel” Farina who tipped Ted off that Mr. von Meister prefers to speak German and actually prefers to be called Ferd. Ted’s a crafty little bugger, so, he decided to take a self-taught, computer based, German language course, to impress the new boss during his first meeting, by speaking a few basic German sentences. First impressions are critical in the business world. And if Ted had any hope of turning this gig into a full time European vacation/job, he’d need to strike early.
You Talkin’ to Me?
The computer based language course, offered by a firm called “You Talkin’ to Me? Language Learning” teaches simple to remember German phrases like, “please pass me your weinersnitchel”. Not terribly useful. However, the very first phrase that Ted decided to memorize was, “I like to take a long, hard ride on the large horse”. The phrase connected with Ted because he always imagined Germans riding horses in beautiful fields and through the Black Forest. And because the German word for “horse” is “pferd”, which is pronounced “Ferd”, the same as the CEO. “That’s cute”, Ted thought, “but not terribly relevant to the work world.” So, Ted skipped ahead to various chapters and was able to piece together a simple phrase, spoken with a severe German accent, “Hello Ferd, I am looking forward to working long and hard for you.”
Don’t say it… Do… Not… Say It!
The big first introduction to Ted’s new boss was rather formal. It took place in the Executive Conference Room, in front Ferdinand’s team of 12 senior vice presidents. Ferd walked up to Ted with his administrative assistant Heidi by his side, and Heidi said in English with a severe German accent, “Herr Johnson, I am pleased to introduce you to Herr von Meister.” Here was Ted’s moment to impress Ferd, his team, and the entire organization because he was sure word would spread like wildfire how this newly transferred American spoke German to Herr von Meister during their first introduction. Although not as big a moment as John F. Kennedy, in Berlin in 1962, capturing the hearts of millions of Germans when he spoke those famous words, “Ich bin ein Berliner!!” (I am a Berliner — or jelly donut depending on who you’re asking) but, Ted figured it would be pretty darn close.
Ferd put his hand out to Ted. His entire senior team was watching. The internal communications manager was there to capture the first introduction. Ted told me, “geez, I suddenly felt incredibly nervous. ‘Here goes,’ I thought to myself. So, I took a deep breath, firmly shook Herr von Meister’s hand, looked him square in his eyes, and said, “Ich mochte lange unt hard ein grosse Ferd reiten.” Ted unknowingly mixed up his words and ended up saying, in flawless German with a severe German accent, “I am looking forward to riding you long and hard, my large Ferd.” Ferd’s mouth dropped open. His senior vice presidents gasped. And Heidi’s knees weakened as she nearly fainted. There was a moment of deafening silence that seemed to last for hours. Herr von Meister broke the silence by saying in English with a severe German accent, “Ja, good luck, Zed and velcome aboard. I too am looking forward to riding you long and hard.” Needless to say, Ted’s six week assignment was not extended. However, a lot of thoughtful employees occasionally left carrots, apples and sugar cubes on his desk.
What’s the connection to film and learning?
It has to do with language and specifically mother tongue. A few years ago my team conducted a global experiment with 339 participants in ten cities around the world. The experiment used film to support an important message for groups of participants and no film for the same important message for other groups. The important message focused on a change curve reflecting ten emotions or steps that people tend to experience when experiencing change. The change curve was a central and recurring theme in the workshop. A PowerPoint slide showing the curve contained only fourteen words and listed the ten emotions or steps including: shock/denial, anger, fear, nostalgia, bargaining, choice/decision, curiosity, readjustment, commitment, and renewal. The NO FILM version of this session showed the ten emotions on a PowerPoint slide and facilitating a discussion about the emotions.
The FILM version included all that was discussed during the no film workshop, plus a quiz featuring ten film clips from popular films that were produced in the U.S. or Europe. Each clip represents one of the emotions or steps on the change curve. The workshops’ participants, divided into small groups of four to six individuals, were given approximately ten seconds to identify the emotion or step portrayed by each of the film clips. After the ten seconds, the name of the step or emotion that was being portrayed in the film clip appeared on the screen and, at the same time, the facilitator would orally state the answer to the clip. This choice in experiment design was inspired by Richard Mayer’s signaling effect, which is a part of Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning (CTML). The signaling effect occurs if parts of the pictorial material are highlighted at the same moments that they are referred to in the narration. Each film clip differed in length, running from thirty seconds to four minutes. The film genres included comedy, drama, romance, and action. The quality of the audio and visual of each clip was similar.
Immediately after the workshops, participants completed a quiz asking them to list, based on memory, the emotions on the change curve. Those who watched a film clip scored better than those who did not watch a film clip. However, particularly interesting is our findings when controlling for the effect of Asia and Europe versus North America. In every instance, the scores coming from Asia and Europe show a statistically significant difference (higher) score boost compared to Asia and European who DID NOT see film. Although there was an increase in score in North America when comparing film versus no film, the increase is much smaller than the increases in Asia and Europe.
What’s the Why?
My theory addressing the differences in scores is based on English as either a first or a second language. The difference in scores noticed in the change curve test is connected to English as a second language, as is the case with the Asian and European participants, versus English as the first or only language for the North American participants.
The first consideration is that the facilitators delivered the workshop speaking English, the PowerPoint slides were written in English, and the participants interacted with each other by speaking English. Receiving and processing the information was more natural and easier for the North American participants compared to the other groups.
Secondly, the change curve discussions were central to the workshop and received more attention than other important messages via storytelling and group exercises to reinforce the curve’s ten steps and emotions. The depth and quality of the discussions were identical among all groups.
Third, the abstract nature of the change curve discussion, compared to the leaders’ messages, made the change curve topic more difficult to grasp. In conclusion, the North American participants, who received the change curve information via their mother tongue, understood the change curve content well enough without the film clips. They did not need the film clips as much as the Asian and European groups to increase their understanding. Because English is not the first language for most of the Asian and European based participants, the use of the film clips increased their understanding of this abstract notion of a change curve, or had a greater effect compared to the North American participants.
Until the next blog when we cover the Leader Effect, I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences with language or film. However, feel free to keep to yourself any stories of riding anyone or anything long and hard. Happy trails my friends, until we meet again….
“Dewwwwg, can we make a film together? You and me?” asked Marie-Cecile. She was smart, sexy, and French. How I answered this question would seal my fate. I’ll explain in a moment.
The previous blog focused on three low-budget short films made by a couple of work colleagues. The films were created to simply entertain our U.S. based employees. However, one film, The Godfather of Values, helped the audience understand the elusive topic of corporate values. That got me wondering: could a corporate film, created as a comedy to entertain, also enhance one’s connection to an important, yet dry, topic? A couple of years later, in December of 2007, I would have a unique opportunity to answer this question in a high risk, potentially career ending setting.
Big Change on the Horizon
The successful company I was working for, headquartered in the lovely country of Luxembourg with offices around the world, was preparing to implement an employee management system that would focus on eight universally applicable job competencies such as Accountability & Decision Making, Problem Solving, Communication & Influencing, etc. Most employees, when asked for their opinion about this upcoming initiative, would roll their eyes, yawn, or walk away without giving an answer about this important, yet dry, topic. Implementation would not be easy. Coincidentally, in August 2007, a few months before the competency rollout, I was given a terrific developmental opportunity to expatriate from our New Jersey office to our Luxembourg headquarters where I would live and work for six months. Top management figured that my U.S. centric view of the world could use a little, ah, “culturing”.
The Culturing – Part 1 – You Wanna Meet Me Where?!
My first afternoon in the office, a colleague with a heavy accent rings me up and offers to give me the cultural lay of the land over a cup of espresso. I said, “sounds good, where shall we meet?” He said, “I vill meet you in your annus.” Yes, he really said that. I said into the phone, “look Mack, are you a wise guy? Who is this?” He said, “this is Genady. I do not know this Mack of whom you speak. I am eagerly anticipating meeting you as I enter your annus at 13:00 hours. Your annus is located on zee ground floor between zee Saturn and Pluto conference rooms. It is zee conference room named after zee planet Uranus.” “Ohhhh, THAT Uranus. Gotcha.” It turns out the conference rooms are named after planets.
The Culturing – Part 2 – What’s in a Name?
My second day on the job, I learned that folks from Germany and Eastern Europe pronounce my name “Duck” with a really severe CK at the end. This always quacks me up (ouch, sorry). French women, however, pronounce my name as a soft, soothing Dewg (sounds like ew instead of ugh). The extended “ewwww” sound is beautiful and feels like someone is massaging the back of my neck; usually with finely manicured red fingernails, with a hint of Coco Channel perfume in the air. It makes me a bit dizzy and weak in the knees. And this gets me back to Marie-Cecile’s provocative question.
I asked MC what exactly did she have in mind? She asked if we could make a film explaining the new job competencies. Feeling disappointment and relief at the same time, I asked if there was a budget because, after all, the three films that I had produced in America enjoyed healthy budgets running between, oh, 50 and 500 dollars. And we would need a co-worker in Luxembourg who was skilled with filming, sound and editing. She said, “Dewwg, perhaps I have a nicer idea. You may have a 25,000 Euro budget and can use a local film production company. Might that be acceptable, Dewwg? Oui?” With a spinning head and weak knees, I responded, “Oui oui, that’ll be just swell” sealing my corporate film making fate.
Three Act Play
We approached the project as a three act play.
Act 1: due to holidays, we needed two months of Pre Production including writing the script, scouting locations, enlisting employees for 18 roles, and creating a 5 day filming schedule. Just as important, we made the following 5 strategic decisions: 1) James Bond would be the perfect film to parody for an international audience 2) Empower the Director (Erwan Gobliard) and Executive Producer (Patrick Hoffmann) to capture our vision and to inject their creativity 3) Employees will write the script and play all parts – made by the employees for the employees 4) Enlist one well known, credible executive to play a key character. This will make it easier to enlist others 5) Be professional, have a lot of fun, and feed the film crew very well.
Act 2: Film, with strict military type precision, for 5 days and evenings.
Act 3: one month of Post Production including editing, adding sound track/music, special effects, and packaging DVDs. Prepare a special All Staff meeting to unveil and explain the purpose of the job competencies in December. At the end of the All Staff meeting, surprise the audience with a special screening of the completed film: “007 – For Our Staff Only“.
The employees’ spirit during pre production and filming was just great. Folks really got into it, had fun and were quite brave trying acting for the first time. Erwan Gobliard proved to be a superb Director, working tirelessly to prepare shots, the production crew and the actors/employees. Marie-Cecile was the glue who held everything together and was the primary reason the film was completed. Marie-Cecile was smart, creative and she smoothly executed all tasks.
However, being involved with all aspects of making the film distorted my perspective. While watching the clips over and over, the humor seemed less funny to the point where nothing seemed funny. The creative shots now seemed tedious and unnecessary. The competencies seemed over defined and heavy handed. The employees playing the many parts were no longer convincing, but, seemed unprofessional and clownish. I became convinced that our daunting task of delivering a universal message to 450 employees, originating from 25 countries, would instead be viewed as confusing, silly and amaturish. I convinced myself that a multi-cultural, European-based audience would be cynical and critical. What a mess. Ultimately, I felt sorry for Marie-Cecile for trusting me and have her name attached to the project. I decided to update my resume as this would certainly be a career ending mistake.
Teaser movie posters, colored light orange silohwetted with James Bond flanked by two Bond girls, hung throughout the campus mysteriously stating “for our staff only, join us at the all staff meeting room at 3:00 pm on December 14″. This created curiosity and buzz throughout the campus. The one-hour All Staff meeting was divided into two parts: a 40 minute presentation to introduce and explain the job competencies followed by the film “007 Four Our Staff Only”. The first part of the meeting was a success. After a brief Q&A, I said something like: “Ok, now it’s time to watch the movie that a few of your colleagues have produced. You know, ever since I was a little boy, I loved going to the movies. But, the only thing better than going to the movies was eating popcorn while watching the movie. Now, I gotta believe that the only thing better than eating popcorn while watching a movie, would be to have our Executives SERVE the popcorn to us. Right? Ok fellas, get serving.” And with that, the five top executives jumped out of their chairs in the front row, and grabbed baskets filled with bags of popcorn, and walked around passing out bags to the audience. The employees loved it! And the Executives loved it more than the employees!! It was a riot!
The lights dimmed and the movie, filmed in crystal clear high definition, opened on a huge screen (Opening 2 min 6 sec). The room filled with a Bond-type score. And “thud” – the audience remained conspicuously silent. My worst fear was hovering. However, a few minutes into the film, the first comedic scene approached and, thankfully, ended with a wonderful laugh ( Slapping 54 sec).
Then, with each scene, the audience loosened up and realized that this was pure comedy. They giggled whenever an employee would enter a scene. The laughter became greater with each scene until they were practically roaring with laughter during the final and best scene with Q and the atomic pen (Q & Atomic Pen 1 min 49 sec)
It was perfect. It exceeded my expectations! There was a huge applause at the end of the movie. After the movie, I thanked everyone and then presented Marie-Cecile with an Oscar statue for Best Producer. She was shocked and everyone applauded her. Then I said something like, “in the spirit of the Christmas Season, from your Human Resources Team, the CEO, and the executive team, we have gifts for everyone…. an Atomic Pen (it appears at the end of the movie) and a copy of the video.” The employees loved that part, too.
After the All Staff meeting concluded and as the crowd rushed to get their gifts in the
back of the room, a top German executive walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, “Duck congratulations. I have never experienced anything like this. This is the best All Staff Meeting we have ever had. The employees’ enthusiasm was just amazing. I just cannot believe it. And we have never had this many people show up to a meeting.” Several other executives and employees said something similar at a cocktail reception held immediately after the meeting. A Russian employee said, “Duck, I have seen many movies in my lifetime, but, this is without question the best movie that I have ever seen.” Another said, “Doug, look around. Everyone is smiling. I’ve been here for 13 years and I’ve never seen a single person smile after these meetings. But look, EVERYBODY is smiling. It’s incredible.”
Longer Term Impact
The process of producing For Our Staff Only did several things. First, the collaborative process proved to be a terrific team building initiative. Second, poking fun of the competencies made it easier for employees to actually take the competencies more seriously, giving the initiative a better chance to succeed. Third, a few months later, a number of employees said that the film’s quality and the fun premier at the All Staff meeting was having a positive impact on the campus’ culture and the way folks were presenting information. Fourth, Marie-Cecile had a brilliant idea to edit the film into 8 scenes — one for each job competency — and place them on the company intranet so employees could access it as a reminder. This had a sustaining impact on learning and understanding. And that really got me wondering how to use film to help folks learn.
And personally, I walked away with several life enhancements. First, I quickly developed a deep respect and affection for my European colleagues and their various cultures. Second, when speaking with French women, I’ve learned how to “direct” the conversation so they’ll have to say my name several times; and third, I never, ever schedule meetings in conference rooms named Uranus.
Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated. Merci beaucoup, ya’ll!
The Godfather is one of the most quoted films. As a lot of guys do, my buddies and I will toss a few quotes around at parties or while watching football games. However, my pal Fat Head told me an interesting story about a guy he used to work with who had an annoying tendency to loudly and inappropriately blurt lines from the famous film. Fat Head said it was as if this fella kinda had a form of Godfather Tourette’s syndrome.
This fella strangely insisted on being called Vito (the Godfather’s name), yet his real name was Rupert. He would bring tube shaped cream-filled Italian pastries, hand them to random unnerved employees, and say “leave the gun, take the cannoli.” During his annual performance review, Vito would tell his boss, “Go ahead big shot, make me an offer I can’t refuse.” But the incident that made Vito “swim with the fishes” involved a confrontation with a newly hired CEO. While walking the halls pressing the flesh with employees, the CEO came across Vito, shook his hand, and asked him his name. Before co-workers could dive in front him, Vito blurted out, “You sonofabitch, do you know who I am? I’m Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders.” During Vito’s exit interview, immediately following the Moe Greene incident, he asked the HR manager, “Tom, can you get me off the hook? For old time sake?” The HR manager appropriately replied, “Can’t do it, Sally“. Vito smiled, quietly walked out of the office and down the street to the bus stop for his final ride home.
Building on Each Other
We now have five anecdotes, featured in this blog and the previous two blogs, suggesting that film can be an effective instructional tool. In the first case (blog “A Truth About Film“), the use of a film clip seems to have amplified the message a corporate executive wanted to impart and helped participants, and even nonparticipants like me, retain that message (8 second clip The Truth ). In the second case (blog “The First Teacher Who Used Film… and Inspired Me“), a sixth-grade teacher filmed a parody of Robin Hood, (two minute cut from Adam Hood) featuring his students, to emphasize a moral point and have a little fun. And in this blog, we’ll feature three home made short movies that were created by a work colleague named Jeff Watts and me. All three amplified relevant messages, featured colleagues playing roles, and were parodies of popular films.
Woodbine’s Field of Dreams
The first was a “Field of Dreams” parody featuring a new site manager working in a cornfield located next to one of our company’s sites in Woodbine, Maryland. The punchline: the voice he was hearing in the cornfield was coming from employees playing a practical joke on him. This 3 1/2 minute film was used to open one of our company’s all staff meetings. The response was positive as it was the first time we used a video, and home made at that, to open a meeting. Folks appreciated the use of humor and seeing a few colleagues in the movie. Take a look at two minute cut Field of Dreams
Star Trek’s Execution
We created another film supporting the CEO’s objective to improve the company’s ability to execute. In a “Star Trek” parody, Captain Kirk emphasized to Mr. Spock, Scotty, and Uhura that the crew of the Starship Enterprise needed to execute their plans to assure a successful mission. As an homage to the CEO, the story had a comical flashback scene of the CEO as a young boy (played by an employee’s son) fooling around with electronic equipment while sneaking a cigarette in his basement. This eleven-minute film was shown during a leadership meeting. The response was positive and the CEO got a kick out of it. Here is a two minute cut Star Trek – Execute
The Godfather of Values
The most effective film, however, occurred in April 2005. I was involved with a leadership meeting in which I was to deliver a presentation reflecting our company’s corporate values: Leadership, Innovation, Integrity, Partnership, and Excellence. My presentation was scheduled as the first thing in the morning following a late night of socializing and celebrating. The roughly fifty leaders from our engineering department were groggy and could have cared less about our company’s corporate values. Most of them had not memorized more than one or two of the five values. I dimmed the lights in the room and opened the presentation with an eleven-minute surprise film that a couple of colleagues and I had produced two weeks prior to the meeting. The musical score from the film “The Godfather” filled the room. The music faded away and the film, a Godfather parody featuring five of the company’s leaders – all of whom were sitting in the room that morning — filled the large screen.
The story line was connected to our company’s five values, with each of the five leaders seeking advice from “the Godfather of Values” so they could better understand the meaning of each value. The audience loved the video, as was evidenced by laughter throughout most of the film and the extended applause after the film’s conclusion. Here is a 3 minute cut from Godfather of values. Based on the oral and written feedback, this eleven minute film turned out to be the most memorable portion of the three-day meeting. Participants’ comments included statements such as “it was the first time that I ever paid attention to the values” and “using humor to present something that is usually taken too seriously made it easy for me to watch the presentation.”
What’s the Implication?
All three videos, especially “The Godfather of Values”, were used to increase learner engagement and present information in a new way. Several scholars and practitioners of workplace learning have put forward this precise claim: that the use of film (and other forms of multimedia) enhances learning. If this is the case, workplace learning leaders — particularly given the increasing pressure for them to do more with less — should take note and consider incorporating film into their curricula if they have not already done so. However, while some have made a convincing theoretical case for the use of film to enhance learning, the evidence of film’s usefulness was far from convincing until 2012. The research showing the impact of film on learning was largely anecdotal and the empirical research that has been done has not focused on workplace learning but rather on other contexts such as language learning and the traditional college setting. My research, an extensive global study conducted in 2011 and 2012, focuses precisely on workplace learning and will be reviewed in future blogs.
Until we meet again, please blog back with examples of work or school related films that you believe had an impact on learning or engagement. And if you see Rupert/Vito, make him an offer he can’t refuse.
The previous blogs focused on a few events that inspired me to love and eventually use film. As mentioned, I survived the physical activity required to watch “Clayton family film classics”, such as the original King Kong, with my older siblings. Many years later, an executive used a short clip from the film A Few Good Men to drive home a difficult truth that a room full of leaders needed to hear. However, another important film, created by a young 6th grade teacher in New Jersey named Mr. Nicholas Menna in 1965, had an everlasting impact on me.
The Play’s the Thing. Sure.
As was the tradition of many elementary schools, the 5th and 6th grade classes at Tatem Elementary School would produce and perform an annual play. These were corny events that touched on various topics with bold revisionist history including Christmas plays where everyone, including Tatem’s few Jewish kids, had to sing Christmas carols and students with naturally blonde hair and blue eyes were hand picked to play baby Jesus and Mary. The only albino student to walk Tatem’s halls is also considered to be the greatest Saint Mary in the school’s history. Or a play about settlers moving across the United States during the 1800’s to discover gold in California and build a big railroad, resulting in, as 5th grader “Lefty” Ford proudly proclaimed to the audience, “discovering a great city called Hollywood and my father said that there were so many Chinese people building the railroads, that the egg roll and egg foo young was invented in our great country.”
The most memorable play, however, was the infamous 1964 “Thanksgiving Day” play, dramatizing how the nice Pilgrims came to America and served turkey and chocolate cream pie to the Indians, who immediately fell in love with the Pilgrims and basically handed over America in exchange for a couple of blankets, more turkey, a bunch of canned cranberry sauce, and, I kid you not, a six pack of Ballentine beer and a pack of Winston cigarettes. It turns out that these last two bits of nourishment were snuck into the storyline impromptu by 6th grader Bob “Goony Bird” Dunn playing one of the Pilgrims. Goony’s mother was a proud Navaho Indian and taught Goony the real deal about the Indians and Pilgrims. The beer and cigs were his form of disruptive protest over the nonsensical nature of Tatem’s “Thanksgiving Day” story. The teachers and parents in attendance were mortified when the tribe’s chief, played by Jimmy “Choo Choo” Thane, looking thoroughly confused, sheepishly accepted the six pack from Goony. The 100+ students in the audience, however, went completely crazy when Goony, instead of handing the chief a peace pipe, fired up a Winston, took a long drag and exhaled, and uttered the most memorized line in the school’s history: “chocolate cream pie my ass.”
Bring on Menna
The following year Mr. Menna was hired at the young age of 24 to gain control over the upcoming 6th grade class. He was a strict, no-nonense Italian American who grew up in New Jersey. He insisted that students stand when asking or answering a question. He emphasized good penmanship and proper grammar and mathematics. He demanded that respect be shown to everyone in his classroom. And, get this, he was the first teacher in the school system’s history to produce a film instead of a play. I was in 3rd grade when we were called to the auditorium in the school’s basement to watch, not a school play, but a movie called “Adam Hood” featuring the older 6th graders, directed by Mr. Menna. The film was a 14 minute parody of the classic story Robin Hood. When the lights went down and the movie started, I could not believe what I was seeing: kids only four or five years older than me appearing in a movie! The room was filled with awe and laughter. It was an experience that would stay with me forever. The following link contains a three minute clip. Check it out (the audio, which was narration by a 6th grade classmate, no longer exists).
Three years later I was a 6th grader in Mr. Menna’s class because I was one of the bad boys who needed some prescriptive Menna medicine. When I settled into my seat I figured it was going to be a long year. Boy was I wrong. To this day it remains one of my most memorable school years. For the first time in my young life, school was fun and interesting. Mr. Menna was creative and gave homework assignments that included watching films such as “El Cid” and “The Agony and the Ecstasy“, to augment our classroom teachings of the wars between Christian Spain and the Moors and the challenges that Michelangelo had with painting the Sistine ceiling. He provided a slide show of photos that he had taken of his trip to Rome. And he spoke of Italy and the Renaissance period with such passion that it seemed as if I was there. Mr. Menna added a fourth R to the essential 3 Rs (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic). It was Renaissance, which to me was synonymous with art, beauty, and hope. Mr. Menna was the first teacher who made any sense to me. School was never quite as interesting or stimulating since. But, Mr. Menna made his mark.
Italy at Last
Over the years my experiences at Tatem became a faded memory. As an adult I occasionally considered what it would be like to travel outside the United States. Italy was always at the top of my list. Finally, I booked a trip for my wife and me to visit Italy during the Christmas season of 2007. For eight days, we visited Milan and viewed da Vinci’s “The Last Supper“, we climbed to the top of the cathedral Duomo to check out its impressive roof and to take in a 360 degree view of the city; Florence where we viewed hundreds of magnificent paintings and sculptures including Michelangelo’s “David” and “The Slaves” in their unwakening state; Rome where we visited the Vatican Museum including the ”Raphael Room”, attended Christmas mass in Saint Peter’s square, toured St. Peter’s Cathedral and saw the famous “Pieta” carved by a young Michelangelo, and numerous perfect marble sculptures from various artists, the “Sistine Ceiling” in it’s hushed glory, and I wept in silence and awe when encountering “The Moses” in the Church of St. Peter in Chains. As we moved from city to city and viewed so many wonderful sites, I began thinking about Mr. Menna’s history lessons of the Renaissance and Italy.
Christmas Eve Phone Call
On Christmas Eve, my wife and I were sitting on our hotel’s balcony enjoying red wine and a view of the Pantheon illuminated by misty rain and amber lights on the piazza. Mr. Menna was still in my head. I took a shot by dialing information in New Jersey and asked for Nicholas Menna’s phone number in the southern New Jersey area. Miraculously, the operator gave me a number and I dialed. A woman answered and I asked for Nicolas Menna. The next voice I heard sounded exactly the same as my 6th grade teacher, after so many years — no nonsense, direct and to the point. “Hello.” I said “Hello, Mr. Menna?” “Yeah, this is he. Who’s calling?” “Mr. Menna, this is Douglas Clayton. I was a 6th grade student of yours in 1969.” After a brief pause, he said, “Douglas Clayton? Oh yeah, I remember you. Are you in jail or something?! Why are you calling me?” I said, “No, no, no I’m not in jail. I’m in Rome. I’m calling to wish you a Merry Christmas and to tell you that the reason I’m in Rome is because of you. I realized that the other teachers taught us only the basics, but you thought enough of us to teach us beyond the basics. I’ve seen everything you talked about, even the Sistine Ceiling and the Moses. And you were right, it’s all so amazing and important. I just wanted to let you know that and to thank you for inspiring me to look at the world through a broader lens.” The phone fell silent on the other end and I was wondering if we had gotten disconnected and he hadn’t heard a single thing I said. Finally, in a gentle tone that I had never heard from him, “Thank you Douglas. This is the nicest Christmas present I could have ever hoped for.”
Connection to Film and Learning
In 2004, a couple of work colleagues and I began experimenting with filming short educational parodies targeted for a broad audience in work. We parodied Field of Dreams, The Godfather, and Star Trek, similar to how Mr. Menna parodied Robin Hood. Employees played various roles, similar to how Mr. Menna featured students. The next blog will feature short clips from these films.
In summary, a sixth grade teacher unknowingly inspired me to breathe the air and see wonders that exist beyond the shores of the U.S.A. I think I’ve become more open minded because of it. He unknowingly inspired me to create film parodies of well known stories featuring colleagues as actors. I believe I’m a more effective learning professional because of it. I would love it if you would blog back with examples of work related videos that feature employees in fun or creative settings. Or share a story of a teacher who inspired you.
“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.
In the classic film King Kong (1933), Carl Denham, the filmmaker turned exhibitor, introduced his captured, prehistoric giant ape as “Kong, the eighth wonder of the world.” Well, for some of us, film could also be labeled as one of the world’s wonders. Before we get into discussing film’s impact on learning, let’s have some fun swapping stories about our most wonderful films. I’ll go first.
While growing up in southern New Jersey with my brother and five sisters, the film King Kong would appear on television once or twice per year. When it did, life would halt for two hours as we watched what we believed was the greatest movie ever made. I was only five years old the first time I watched King Kong. All seven of the Clayton kids, sprawled across the couch and the living room floor, along with our parents sitting in their two comfortable chairs, would watch this Clayton family classic. Before I was old enough to read, my father, one of the great practical jokers ever, told me that he was the Director of the movie. I replied, “no way, Dad, you’re a salesman, not a movie Director.” He explained that he directed King Kong before he became a salesman. As the film’s opening credits approached the end, he would say, “ok, now look Douglas, there’s my name, you see, it says ‘directed by J.B. Clayton’.” I didn’t know how to read and I was a trusting little fella, so, I totally believed my Dad. Without my Dad’s knowledge, the next week I told my friends, my teachers, and our adult neighbors on East Knight Avenue that my father was the world famous director of King Kong. My friends wanted my Dad’s autograph, my school’s principal wanted my Dad to speak about Hollywood film making at a special Parent Teacher Association school assembly, and my neighbors would simply shake their heads and walk away from me mumbling something about “that poor little Clayton boy.”
As we watched the movie, my siblings and I would reenact the scene where Kong killed the scary tyrannosaurus rex by cracking and ripping open the T-rex’s jaw. My sibs always made me play T-rex while they would take turns playing Kong. It may have taken a week or two, but, eventually feeling would return to my jaw and it would operate normally. My sibs were into realism.
The movie’s most memorable scene captured the climactic battle that Kong waged against several military airplanes equipped with machine guns, while he balanced himself 102 stories atop of the Empire State Building in New York City. We cheered when he was able to grab one plane and smash it against the building. And we cried when Kong, bleeding from bullet wounds, looking confused and hurt, fell to his death. My sibs always made me play the airplane while they, once again, would take turns playing Kong, throwing me off the couch (the Empire State Building) onto the living room floor. As I mentioned, they were into realism.
Watching King Kong was a physical, emotional and fun event. It’s the film that kicked off what would become my budding love affair with movies.
I’d love to hear about your first, most memorable movie. What was it? Where were you when you watched it? What made it so memorable… or such a wonder?
We’re in the middle of movie award season which always gets me thinking about …. films. The Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild awards have been handed out. Germany’s Berlinale and America’s Academy Awards are right around the corner. I know folks who are practically addicted to watching movies because the films deliver an artistic fix. Yet, others could care less about watching movies as the experience doesn’t seem to add any value to their lives. I respect the reactions from folks who are in both camps. However, there is a third group of film lovers: those of us who use film to enhance learning and life. This blog is intended to explore the impact that film may have on learning and on enhancing life by encouraging the readers to ask and answer questions and to share their experiences and best practices. Ultimately, it’s about having some fun with this topic and giving back to those who wish to understand more about film’s impact in these areas. I’ll share my research results, describe examples using film effectively and perhaps not so effectively in a corporate setting, and discuss a few creative corporate films that were written and produced as parodies of well known Hollywood films such as Field of Dreams, The Godfather, James Bond, and Mission Impossible. The next blog will include how my obsession with film and learning began. Until then, thanks for your time reading my first blog.