Five lessons from The Martian (2015)

During the start of lockdown, I was itching to watch movies of my favourite actors and while browsing the ones with Matt Damon, stumbled upon The Martian.

Having watched it few times, I was reluctant to do it again. Somehow with the current survival mode On, I was led into watching it once more. However this time, its messages hit me hard and made more sense than ever before. I realised there is so much to learn from this movie in life; as an individual, as a manager, as a leader, as a human.

This time, I sat thru the movie with my notebook and jotted down the key learnings, which I have summarised with examples from the movie.

About the Movie : The Martian is a science fiction movie directed by the critically acclaimed director, Ridley Scott based on the book by Andy Weir. This is a story of a NASA astronaut Mark Watney played by Matt Damon who was stranded on MARS after a space incident where he was presumed to be dead. The story revolves around Mark’s fight to survive alone on the planet while NASA Officials try desperately to bring him back, with some breakthroughs as well. Finally Mark is rescued by his fellow crew of Hermes Spacecraft.

Lesson 1 : Keep humour alive, even in adversity

Martian is not classified as a comedy film, though it does have slapstick humour moments which are not necessarily spatial.

Mark sings out loud the disco collection of Commander Lewis which is actually not his favourite. He calls himself a Space Pirate. Now that’s unique! When NASA established a contact and starts communicating, Mark uses the ‘F’ word while communicating with NASA which is broadcasted across its command center making all the team members laugh.

Life can throw curveballs at us anytime. How one deals with it will always speak about the strength and resilience of one’s character. And laughing it out can be therapeutic. As American comedian, Bon Newhart quotes “The only way to survive is to have a sense of humour”

Lesson 2 : Leadership is about taking bold decisions

To bring Mark Whatney back home, there are many tough decisions that were ahead of the NASA Leadership. While there was a strong political opposition, Mitch Henderson who was the head of the Hermes mission decided to send Hermes to get Mark back; this costed him his job. In another instance, Commander Lewis of Hermes takes a decision along with her crew to get Mark back though it would mean extra years of space journey and years of wait to meet their families.

Leadership is not about yourself, but its about putting the mission first. Its about taking bold steps and inspiring others to believe in it. As Jack Welch says, ‘Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls’.

Lesson 3: Even in crisis, do not lose sight of long term

On Sol 70, Mark says its time to start thinking long term. He starts planning his exit strategy to travel to crater when the next Ares arrives. His plan meant, he had to survive for another 50 days. And Mark gets onto drafting all possible ways to do so. He grows potatoes on Mars, finds Pathfinder, establishes communication with NASA.

He never lost sight of the big picture – his return to earth and home.

It is very obvious for each of us to get worn down by day to day transactions that can sap the juice out of our mind to think long term. As they say in Bible, “He who sows bountifully will reap bountifully”. Play long term games. Invest in your life today to get bigger gains in future. Do not miss woods for trees.

Lesson 4: Breakthroughs can come from any corner

The nerdy unconventional astrophysicist Rich Purnell who is way down the ranks and is portrayed as ‘I don’t give a damn’ millennial, explains his proposed plan to allow the Hermes crew to rescue Mark Watney. Instead of stopping at Earth, the ship will use Earth’s gravity to change course and accelerate towards Mars, pick up Watney in a flyby, and return home. The NASA Head and Director of Hermes mission are stunned in silence and after checking the Maths agree that this is indeed their best shot in getting Mark back.

Many times leaders chose to have brainstorming sessions with their senior team members. Fair point. However a problem shared, is a problem solved. Trust that any member of your team can come with a sparky idea. Solutions or life lessons can come from your children, grandparents, friends, strangers anyone. Be receptive.

Lesson 5: Keep Learning always; You never know when it comes handy!

Mark Watney stranded on Mars has to find a way to stay alive. The existing food in his Hab would not have kept him alive for long, but he did not give up. He found a way to grow potatoes and then found a way to create water to irrigate his crops. Mark was a Botanist by his education. All what he learnt did not only come handy, but it paved the way for his survival.

Many times in life we treat learning as a one time affair or something that should fetch us a monetary return. Remember ‘What we learn becomes Who we Are’. And who we are defines how we lead our life and face any situation. Learning never goes waste, it’s the best kept treasure which will give you returns when you least expect.

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