movies, movies, movies

I could have used some Grad Skool Rulz back in the day. But seeing as how I am solidly past that phase of my life, the single most useful orgtheory post I can remember was one on movie clips for undergraduate orgs classes, all the way back in 2008.

There were some great ideas in that post and its comments. The first few minutes of The Devil Wears Prada, where a dowdy Anne Hathaway shows up for an interview at high-fashion Runway magazine, is perfect for illustrating organizational culture. Thank you, commenter brubineau.

Brayden suggested back then, and Kieran seconded, Apollo 13 to show how bureaucracies can be efficient. I still use that, starting with “Houston, we have a problem” and ending with “We just lost the moon.” We watch the clip, then I ask the class which of Weber’s characteristics of bureaucracy they think is most dispensable here. When I can get undergrads arguing about Weber, I know I’ve done my job.

Beyond the suggestions in that post — and I’ve tried a bunch of them — I have two other teaching favorites. One is from Pentagon Wars, the single most organizational movie of all time, on the evolution of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Individuals rationally pursuing organizationally created inducements produce an incredibly dysfunctional outcome — very Carnegie School:

Col. Smith: In summation, what you have before you is…

Sgt. Fanning: A troop transport that can’t carry troops, a reconnaissance vehicle that’s too conspicuous to do reconnaissance…

Lt. Colonel Burton: And a quasi-tank that has less armor than a snow-blower, but carries enough ammo to take out half of D.C. This is what we’re building?

The other is the cool-as-a-cucumber George Clooney in Up in the Air — great for illustrating rationalization and the iron cage. The intro shows Clooney at his job, flying around the country firing people. Then we skip to the roll-out of the new, more efficient method: firing people by video chat. Gets them every time.

You will notice, though, that I’ve got a problem here. MY NEWEST MOVIE IS STILL FIVE YEARS OLD! And two of my four picks came out before my undergrads hit kindergarten. Okay, they never would have seen Pentagon Wars even if they were fifteen years older. But dude, it would be nice to at least pretend I’m keeping up with the times.

I looked, but didn’t see a newer movie thread. (Though Brayden had another short post even earlier, in 2006.) Anyone have other favorites from, you know, the 21st century?


Written by epopp

June 3, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Posted in fun

10 Responses

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  1. Another one from The Devil Wears Prada (which I stole from Greggor Mattson at Oberlin) is the clip about the cerulean sweater, which, I imagine, he uses to make a point about how structures circumscribe individual action in myriad hidden ways. He uses it in the first week of his intro class:



    June 3, 2014 at 6:58 pm

  2. I hope this post elicits as many (or more) suggestions as last time, but I’ll use it as an opportunity to share a trick that I use to keep my clips and examples in my classes current: I ask students to supply one a semester as an assignment. They have to find a clip or article that is somehow an “Example from Everyday Life” of the material we’re talking about in the course, along with a short explanation of the concept it illustrates, the connection between the concept and the example, and the benefit of viewing the example sociologically. Some are better than others, but I continuously have an arsenal to draw from that I know resonates with these students’ peers. For what it’s worth, many of my examples this year came from “Friends,” which is also more than 5 years old (but other popular ones came from the American Pie/Wedding series, “Modern Family,” and Disney shows like “Recess”).



    June 3, 2014 at 7:11 pm

  3. They still watch Friends???



    June 3, 2014 at 7:14 pm

  4. Yes! And know every line of Mean Girls (2004) and Remember the Titans (2000)



    June 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm

  5. Fabio, you commented that the problem with many of these clips is that they are from older movies. One thing I noticed is that they all address theory that is much, much older. It is true that the literature on organizational culture is much newer. I use the flair scene in Office Space to illustrate organizational culture in practice. Rather than just stating an organizational rule, the manager just keeps repeating some diatribe about expressing yourself. It aligns really well with Kunda’s work on Engineering Culture.

    I would be interested in some clips that illustrate more recent org theory, especially concepts that students have a hard time wrapping their heads around: problems of legitimacy, what does a population of organizations mean, the relationship between orgs and their environments, etc. Has anyone made a movie about strategic action fields?



    June 3, 2014 at 7:51 pm

  6. I taught a whole semester of Organized Crime premised on the assumption that students would get all my references from The Wire but had to scramble for more recent ones when I realized few of them got them.

    I ended up taking a poll of shows that my Intro students watched last semester because most of my references were already out-of-date. I was surprised by the popularity of Friends as well! Full House was another surprise. Breaking Bad was also popular and may have useful organizational nuggets – but the show just ended so perhaps its out-of-date already. Parks and Rec is a good one and was relatively popular.

    Liked by 1 person

    Josh Mccabe

    June 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm

  7. Deux jours, une nuit from (2014) the Dardenne Brothers is both very recent and relevant from an org perspective.



    June 4, 2014 at 10:53 am

  8. In Good Company (2004) – nice depiction of M&A activity, role of middle management



    June 4, 2014 at 3:29 pm

  9. Thanks for the suggestions & keep ’em coming…

    @Paul-Brian, this is Beth actually but glad I’ve got the Fabio tone nailed. I agree newer theories are harder to illustrate — Boiler Room (2000) is also good for culture (and incentives) if you can tolerate all the f-bombs. Accepted (2006) is good for myth & ceremony (think I got that here too) but also not a newer theory (or a newer movie). Surely there are movies that show SAFs (the Enron movie?) but my guess is it’s harder to boil down to a short clip.

    @Josh, Parks & Rec is a good idea — new and I’ve actually seen it, which helps. Will think on that one.



    June 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm

  10. I’m not sure if The Wire is too dated, but I think that there is a lot to teach about organizations there especially since each season was set up to highlight a different formal organization. There are classes explicitly on The Wire (one taught by W.J. Wilson), but it might be worth it to look at. I especially like Season 4 because it shows the parallels between the police force and the schools (and, well, because they all have Bal’more accents).



    June 5, 2014 at 3:08 pm

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