2 good career lesson from “Green Zone” (a 2010 movie)

Warning: Might contain spoiler of the movie.

So, Green Zone (wiki here) was just released at Cinemas in Jakarta, and I was lured at another chance of war movie. The movie was well made and it was fun to watch, but a more important thing went in my mind as I see the movie, 2 revelations on the potential career minefield I could (or, horror, have) step into.

The first revelation is about the importance of understanding context, of actively finding context, and avoid looking like a clueless dork just because you fail to see the right context (either through lack of intelligence or stubbornness).


The story goes like this: Mr. Miller (just gonna call him Mr.) leads a team tasked with finding WMD, we all now know what a joke that was, but at the time, WMD is the very essence of America’s reason to invade a sovereign nation (I don’t like Saddam but Iraq is a sovereign country).

Mr. Miller, being this totally earnest man, is frustrated by the fact that all 3 sites that intelligence says to contain WMD are, empty. He is frustrated because he risk his ass and his team’s ass trying to enter the WMD site, finding it empty is a sooo uncool anticlimax to the sacrifice he and his team had made. Understandably he is frustrated.

So, he tried to talk to his superior, a colonel (why is an NCO reporting to a Colonel? the US has some funny stuff on their military ranking).

The Colonel dismisses his complain regarding poor intelligence, the Colonel said that he is more concerned with the perceived lack of action on his side and the ball of no WMD could fall on his lap, rather than on the intel. The Colonel is readying himself to enter a presentation of the find-the-WMD to a General. Rather than taking the Colonel’s hint, Mr. Miller decides to maintain his stubborn position of confronting intel guys.

In the presentation, some guys (I assume they are intel or provide the intel data) present their plan of action to a large forum (attended by top brass, press, and troops alike). They mention site to be hit. Mr. Miller, having some with experience with sites, believing that the key issue here is that intel need to step up their game, raise his hand for a question.

He question the intel guy on the accuracy of the intel, the presenters claim that their data are accurate. Mr. Miller pursues, the intel again claim that they are accurate, in a very nice way, looking like a total professional and making Mr. Miller look like a bull in a china store. But again Mr. Miller pursues, the presenter tries to answer but the Colonel, Mr. Miller bos, talk and basically told Mr. Miller to shut up.

Mr. Miller doesn’t relent, now the General (Mr. Miller boss’s boss) step in and ask Mr. Miller to state his opinion. Mr. Miller look visibly relieved, thinking that he found an ear, someone who understand the bigger context, Mr. Miller’s context. Mr. Miller then state his frustration that all the points given by intel is empty and he question the accuracy of the intel provided.

The General replied by saying “the intel is accurate, your job is to go out there and find it”. Puff, rather than being supported, he is blown to hell.

So here’s this guy, 4 weeks in Iraq, thinking that he’s doing what he is asked to do, thinking that all he want is to do what he was asked to do, and thinking that “if my boss don’t listen then i’m gonna go subvert him”, failing to see that his job could be basically be a huge necessary hoax, state his context loud and clear and finding himself opposing his boss and being put down by his boss’s boss. 4 weeks in the field, failing to see the right context, and a career ruined.

His fatal mistake to his career is that he fail to see and find the right context. To him, the event is that the locations intelligence provide has been empty, and his selected or developed context is: the guy providing intelligence need to do a better job so he don’t risk his ass in vain.

While the right context is: there’s no WMD, everything that the General, the Colonel, he, and everyone on this chain of command is doing is a charade, a necessary hoax to justify the war. And that he, like everyone else, need to play along. Mr. Miller failed to see this context and botched his career.

He fail to see that his job might not be finding the WMD, but it could be looking like trying damn hard risking his ass finding the WMD.

The lesson of this first revelation to me is: that I need to see the various context, that I could think of an ever larger context but there could be a more appropriate context that others can see but I don’t see. That I need to be clever enough, subtle enough, flexible enough, to see the relevant context, especially those that are not within my immediate point of view.

I could find myself sitting in a job, thinking that my job is to increase sales, thinking that we are all here to increase sales, vigorously trying to increase sales, pushing people left and right to help me to do my job and achieve the company, stated, goal; while I was actually being the clueless dork that fail to see that my job might not be to increase sales at all, that trying to increase sales could just be a necessary hoax to achieve something else, that all I need to do is looking like someone trying so hard to increase sales, put an appropriate game face on when asked (“yes, we are trying really hard to increase sales, we are visiting 10 cities”) instead of being naive feather-ruffling rhino (“i’ve been asked to increase sales but these idiots are not helping me, the cities they suggest are lame). And that if I am able to recognize the real context, I would be perceive as those few discerning guys with the talent and the right to play ball at the next level.

If you think something is amiss, try to see the possible context, especially those beyond your immediate point of view.

Don’t rush to ruffle feathers to pursue your mission, you could be rushing to finish the wrong race.

Take time to understand your boss’s hint, take time to talk in private to see his context, don’t try to pursue your context before you have this talk.

The second revelation is about always having a sure footing in a corporation, especially if you want to move places (your current career path tanked, your boss don’t like you and vice versa).

The story goes like this: after the forum, Mr. Miller was approach by a CIA guy, Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown suggest that Mr. Miller is right and suggest Mr. Miller to come to Mr. Brown if he is interested to know the truth. At this point, Mr. Miller ego is inflated since he is ‘right’ and he might feel that he find an ally in Mr. Brown, a man also interested in the ‘truth’.

Inflated ego and only befriending those who parrot your thought are a dangerous mix to cluelessness

Now, Mr. Miller is still employed by the Colonel, but after the meeting, Mr. Miller seem to be on his own. On one of the mission after the meeting, Mr. Miller was given good intel by a local, Mr. Miller eventually snatch suspects and a location book of Iraqi generals

Mr. Miller prisoner was taken away by Special Forces under the control of a pentagon intel, Mr. Clark; but Mr. Miller is able to keep the book and give to Mr. Brown. The impressed Mr. Brown ask Miller to join him, and the next thing you know Mr. Miller is camping from a building inside the green zone (I thought transferring one unit from the army to being CIA henchmen takes more beraucracy than just a yes between 2 persons, but hell, it’s a movie) working for Mr. Brown.

Now, I don’t that the Colonel would be happy with this move, and so Mr. Miller career in the army is gone for certain by now.

Mr. Clark, learning that Miller might still has the book, contacted Miller to obtain the book. Miller, thinking that he found an ally in Mr. Brown, refuse. Mr. Clark offers Miller a place on his team, Miller still refuse. Fumed, Mr. Clark went storming Mr. Brown headquarters, there he accidentally meet Mr. Miller and said “your transfer paper has been rejected by pentagon, you choose the wrong side”, Mr. Clark then successfully take the book from Mr. Brown.

I was thinking “what a stupid move, so Miller is working for Brown even though his transfer paper has not been approved, doesn’t he consider the possibility that is something goes wrong, he could be left out dried? Disowned by all parties, and even worse, it’s not just him, it’s his entire unit being thrown into uncertainty together with him”

The Lesson: if you want to switch boss, make sure that the new boss has a structural position for you, not just some glory tasks you can help with and some praises in return

I could find myself not happy with my current tasks (maybe the boss, the colleague, the portfolio of the task), being asked for help from someone who’s not my boss, give this guy help, alienates my boss in the process, working even more for the new, unofficial boss, and then find out that my new boss could not provide me a space in his organization. and then me and my team is left out to dry, disowned by all parties.

Fuck, the movie is a great lesson about being careful what you gonna do and where you gonna move. Always be careful, try to understand context beyond your point of view and ensure solid place before you make a jump

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