Lessons from ‘Oppenheimer’


Last week I watched the much hyped movie, Oppenheimer. Tightly framed into three hours, the screenplay was excellent, the music was mesmerising, the performance was outstanding, the punch lines were beautiful, and of course, Nolan’s direction was extraordinary! Take a bow Nolan and team. Sheer brilliance!

While watching the movie, I gathered some lessons that can be applied to the corporate world.

1. Potential is identified by geniuses:In the beginning of the film, there is a scene where Oppenheimer (let’s call him Oppi) is shown struggling with some practical experiments but is clearly inclined towards theory. He attends Neil Bohr’s lecture and impresses him. Later, Bohr directs him to learn quantum physics theory in Europe, and Oppi follows his advice.

In the corporate life also many a time we are guided by mentors who see the potential within us and get us to do our best. Have faith in the instincts of such geniuses.

2. Push yourself:Oppi goes to Dutchland and learns Dutch in just six months. In fact, he starts giving lectures in the language. When his English friends ask him how he manages to do so, he responds, “I am pushing myself.”  That’s the power that comes from coming pushing oneself out of one’s comfort zone.

3. Stay updated: Before the interaction with Einstein, Oppi says that his theory is good but it’s 40 years old now. That shows the importance of staying updated even while learning from the veterans. Don’t get stuck to the past.

4. Surround yourself with the best: In his career, Oppi is surrounded by the best of minds from across the world. That always pushed him to think beyond and gain knowledge from the experts. One’s career and growth are defined by who one is surrounded with.

5. Conviction: While exploring quantum physics, Oppi realised that the US has done very little in the field. He takes it upon himself to bring the subject to the US with the help of experts across the globe. His conviction and determination made it happen, and helped him do what he did in the field.

6. Theory needs to be put in practice: One of his scientist friends says, “Theory will only take you so far.” This dialogue highlights the importance of practical implementation of theory, just as the 70-20-10 model of learning.

7. Mission-driven collaboration: Oppi leveraged the best of minds for Project Manhattan and assigned tasks as per each one’s strengths. Bringing all of them for a common cause was his strength and all of them worked towards a common mission.

8. True leadership: A dialogue that stands out is, “My job is to say ‘No’ to you when you are wrong.” That’s authentic leadership. A leader needs to be true to oneself and be able to call a spade a spade.

9. Be Yourself: Oppi is advised by his friend, “Be yourself. You don’t need to wear the US uniform to prove yourself.” In the corporate world, many a time, we fall into this trap. Beware of losing your real self.

10. Teamwork: After the successful launch Oppi makes a statement  — “We did it, everyone.” That’s how leaders act. They give credit of success to all. It’s not ‘I’, but always ‘We’.

11. Values are significant: Oppi feels he has blood on his hands. The movie ends with the ongoing struggle between right and wrong. The innumerable questions that plague the protagonist, such as ‘What was the purpose of making a bomb? Is it worth it? Are we working towards ending the world?’, and so on.

In the corporate world too, we go through such moments of introspection and doubt. In such situations, our moral compass gives us direction. Our values play a pivotal role.

The author, Vivek Saha is the India lead talent management and OD at Thermo Fisher Scientific India. He has also worked with companies such as Aditya Birla Group, Network 18, and Godrej.

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