I went to see Ender’s Game a couple weekends ago, admittedly with some trepidation. Why the trepidation? Well the move I saw before that was Gravity. Not a fan. (Can you say cheesy dialogue and never-ending, super-repetitive story-line?) And since all I knew about Ender’s Game was that it took place in space and involved kids, I kept flashing back to my previous exceedingly dull and never-ending experience. So I was more than pleasantly surprised by this movie.
And, as with all the best movies and books, it got me thinking. What if you, like Ender, were put in situations designed to test your ability to make good decisions, to act quickly, to develop a strategy? What if you had to find the balance between being strong and being kind, to decide how far you’d let your survival instinct push you?
It takes me back to my organizational management classes. We had quite a debate in my decision-making course about logic versus intuition. Does intuition even exist or is it merely knowledge gained through doing? Do some people have more natural decision-making abilities than others? We covered some of the same themes in my leadership course and debated leadership styles. Is one the best, the most successful? Opinions flew from every corner.
There are a lot of org management and psychology themes in the movie, most notably the range of leadership styles. You have the conquerer – the do-as-I-say guy who expects full obedience. There are the brute force types who want you to stay out of the way unless they tell you otherwise, and emotional manipulators who don’t need to use force. And into this bubbling stew of leadership styles comes Ender, the kid who’s kind of not even sure why he’s there.
The story is about his growth as a leader, how he adapts and changes as the story progresses. He’s pushed from one challenge to the next and tested from every angle, so the powers-that-be can see what sort of leader he will become.
But the key part? Ender never completely loses himself. He gets smarter about his strategy, recognizing what’s most important to each person who opposes him and using that to get what he needs while still holding onto his own identity. And who is he? A scrawny, bright kid who doesn’t really believe in himself but comes to have faith in a ragtag group of individuals who believe in him.
And who doesn’t love a story about a bunch of misfits beating all the bullies? (Except in this case, the prize isn’t holding onto their lunch money. The prize is commanding an attack against an alien race.)
But whether in outer space or on earth, the themes resonate: Know who you are. Trust what you know. And never underestimate the weird kids.