Learning Management Skills from ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000′
If you don't know, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a TV show that started on KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1988. It later moved to Comedy Central from 1991 through 1996, then it was on The Sci-Fi Channel from 1997 until 1999.
The most basic way to describe MST3K is it a show about a man and two robot puppets that watch bad movies and make jokes while they do it. It is of course much more than that. It's a staggering creation of beautiful comedy genius. It's a sublime experience that rewards you for paying attention. It's funny without being clean comedy or dirty comedy, it's not mean, it's just fun. It was produced in Minnesota by people from the region so it has a middle of the country sensibility; smart alack Midwesterners rolling their eyes at the coasts.
I've learned two important things from my years of MST3K devotion.
1) There have been plenty of crap produced over the entirety of movie history.
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all they make today are dumb movies, and in the old days it was all classic cinema all the time. No, it's just that the good stuff lasts and the filler gets forgotten. MST3K has dug up poorly produced, badly written and acted, and just plain dumb movies from the 40's through the 90's. And they didn't have to dig that deep.
2) I learned some real-life skills.
In addition to old movies, MST3K would show old educational and industrial short films. Shorts about personal hygiene or how to behave at school. Also, old training and promotional films like for freezers or musical instruments. I particularly like these because I find them a fascinating window into the time they were made and because they are sometimes very informative.
One short that I learned a lot from is called Hired!. It's a short made for Chevrolet to use as a training film for sales managers. It was made in 1940, it's kind of silly and MST3K's jokes are spot on. But, there is also quite a bit of good info.
The basic plot is that a manager of a local Chevy dealership is complaining about the poor performance of his sales staff. His problem boils down to "Young fellas today won't work the way we did 11 years ago."
Through a discussion with his father, the sales manager realizes that the reason his staff isn't living up to its potential is that he's not giving them the tools and support they need. He's not doing his part. He remembers that he was trained and led by a good manager and he needs to be one for his team.
I like that the ideas are laid out in straightforward, plain language without being condescending. The lessons are the basics of good leadership. Plus, it's really funny.
Watch the two-part epic Hired! saga. In part one the manager is frustrated with Jimmy the salesman. He takes refuge on his father's porch and drowns his sorrows in lemonade.
Then in part two, the film open on the ice planet Hoth where the rebels have a base hidden in the snow and the Empire finds them and, let's say, strikes back.
No, wait, that's Star Wars. In part two of Hired! the sales manager learns how to be a good leader. There's not any ice planets, Yodas or Ton-Ton guts. But, he does get his hand cut off. I think, maybe, probably not.