Books and Cinema,  On Management

What ‘The Imitation Game’ taught me about starting up.

Possibly, one of the most enthralling and positively audacious movies I have seen in recent times. A bias might exist due to my fondness for war tales. The Imitation Game also leaves you with a slight melancholy considering how early the life of Alan Turing ended, and how sad (from our mortal perceptions), the lives of some geniuses have been. It doesn’t fail to inspire, of course, for it is a tale of great persistence and victory.

Alan (brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a bit mad and as the Hatter insists- the best people always are. His entry into the story is low key, he starts as a first mover but ends up leading his pack with sheer grit and balls. Quoting Edward de Bono, “The traditional image of success is that of a person who is strong minded, ruthless and hard working. It is surprising how few people fit that image.” Alan was hard working and believed in himself, but was an awkward kind. That didn’t stop him, these things don’t stop people who start up.

Hiring across the spectrum.

Alan chose not to hire the conventional way. The priorities were clear, he sought particular skills sets, and those could have been present in people from all walks of life- teachers to soldiers- not necessarily mathematicians and chess players. This allowed the much needed diversity to his team and helped him solve the problem at hand. We often let certain prejudices guide us, but that might not be the best approach. Educational degrees only matter so much, it’s the experience and the track record that truly counts.

“My machine will work.”

Alan chose to tackle the problem in an unconventional manner. His task was to decode a machine’s code. His superiors believed in setting teams to crack it using certain human techniques. Alan believed in building a machine to crack the machine’s code – something that seemed unearthly to people around him. But honey badger doesn’t care, and Alan dug his heels in, claimed its the best chance we have. Our way of doing things might not always delight the folks who surround us. However, your belief and sheer hard work towards making that belief into reality makes all the difference in the world. And oh- you’d better be right in that case. Because Alan’s machine did bloody work.

“They won’t help you if they don’t like you.”

Your genius won’t save you if you are a stuck up little arrogant arse. Humans work in teams, leaders lead teams and everything ultimately boils down to people. Trust, communication and mutual respect is crucial to success on all fronts. Though being on the same side, Turing is made aware of the fact that he needs his team to back him up in case of crises, and with perspectives other than his own. Clarity on all fronts is desirable, and having a team with complimentary skill sets helps. Alan went out of the way to underline true team spirit, and they stood by him when times were rough. A King isn’t a King without his Generals by his side.

“Sometimes you have to do what’s logical.”

Alan chooses to focus on the bigger picture. Cracking the Nazi communication code is a big victory, however, it could have been a short lived one had the Nazis been aware. Alan chose to let a few attacks come in (sacrificing hundreds of lives in the process) but helped end the war way ahead of time thus saving millions of lives instead. It didn’t feel good, but it was plain logic of a cold calculating mind. When fighting on the field, violence feels good, emotions run high. However, a true leader has the capability of differentiating himself from ‘the boys’ when necessary and understanding the big picture, the implications and the role they play.

“Doing what no one can imagine”

This is a scary thought. Though ideas come and go, early execution can take those to a certain point. Ambition and dreams have the potential to be abstract, way too abstract for even the entrepreneur to comprehend. Dreaming of and executing what none around us can imagine is a lesson in self belief and communication. It is simple, yet extraordinary and is simply a result of putting our head down and working away in what we believe. Mark Manson has been quite eloquent about the art of not giving a fuck.

Your Indomitable Spirit

The Imitation Game is a harsh reminder of what England went through during the Second World War. A tiny island, starving, surrounded by German submarines and bombarded the day lights away over and over again – and yet it did not yield. It is a story of rare courage by a brave nation, proud of what it stands for. It serves as an inspiration for all of us, we can only attempt to imagine how Winston Churchill faced and carried the humongous responsibility on his but human shoulders. And while he did that, he trusted and allowed men like Alan to lead their projects.

Alan Turing gave birth to a new generation of machines, the computers, which could think. He could do it because the circumstances favoured him (no denying that), because he dared to think, because he cared less about certain things, he cared more about certain other things and worked his backside off with a clear focus, on the things he liked. Easier said than done :)

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