7 Lessons from The Newsroom

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom‘, despite the fact it is deeply flawed. Maybe I’m drawn to sporadic moments of genius, they seem more fun than the mundane nature of constant genius.

Here are 7 simple lessons drawn from some of the show’s inspired dialogue.

Lesson 1

You don’t need to criticise good people after a mistake. Your job is simply to stop them being too hard on themselves. Time and time again I see bigger damage to overall performance from people’s inability to get over their mistakes than from the initial mistake itself.

Maggie: How come no one’s yelling at me?
Jim: You know how bad you screwed up, right?
Maggie: Yes
Jim: Is there anyone who feels worse than you do?
Maggie: No.
Jim: Then I doubt it’ll ever happen again.

Lesson 2

Learn the difference between what you are doing for people and what you are doing for the business. If you don’t know the difference between people and a business it is explained beautifully here

Mackenzie: What’s the difference between a corporation and a person?
Sloan: Have you ever held a door open for someone?
Mackenzie: Yes.
Sloan: Did you ask them for money first?
Mackenzie: No.
Sloan: That’s the difference.

Lesson 3

Let your good people make interesting mistakes. If people work for you for any period of time they are bound to make errors, help them dodge those deadly bullets

Maggie: that wasn’t what he was actually mad about. The wife of a board member died and Will asked me to send flowers. I wrote on the card, “I’m so sorry about your loss. LOL.
Jim: LOL
Maggie: I thought it meant “lots of love.
Jim: How are you still working here
Maggie: I dodge bullets. Here comes a bullet. Boom! I’m over here. Ping! Here comes another bullet. Boom! I’m over here.

Lesson 4 –

There is an art in effectively managing communication. There is an art in effectively managing change. Just never forget that because you might be able to convince someone of something it doesn’t mean that it is true. That’s a bad test of rightness.

Leona: You have a PR problem because you have an actual problem.

Lesson 5

Despite what I said about lesson 4, being able to rally people and transmit belief remains a useful skill…

Will: How much of what you’re saying do you believe right now?
Charlie: 60%
Will: I thought it was in the mid-80s. You pulled it off.
Charlie: Experience.

Lesson 6

It’s important to isolate failure in part from total failure. Too often we review projects for where we went wrong, ignoring the importance of where we succeeded. Everyone wants to get things 100% right, but someone told me a long time ago that getting 7/10 decisions right is acceptable – and 8 or above is exceptional – and that seems a reasonable rule.

Will: I believe, except for the things we did wrong, we did everything right

Lesson 7

Take time to figure out the stories around you. Every person you see is writing their own story the whole time, every day they are a little bit different – yet too often we see them as fixed. I have no idea what this story is about…

Will: There’s a story about a little kid who keeps shredding paper and his parents take him to all kinds of doctors to get him to stop shredding paper. And finally they take him to the most expensive doctor in the world who turns to the kid and he says, “Kid, if you stop shredding paper, your parents will stop dragging you to doctors.” And the kid turns to his parents and says, “Why didn’t you just say so?
Mac: Well, all right, then
Will: The point of the story is that the kid could make himself happy by just stopping. I think that’s the point. I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure it out

Finally, some thoughts on how quickly you can learn economics from the first series – with some of the laser sharp dialogue that Sorkin does so well

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2 thoughts on “7 Lessons from The Newsroom

  1. I love this! I was a huge fan of The Newsroom, and you’ve captured some beautiful moments and the underlying messages. I often think of characters/stories in popular culture and what they can teach us about leadership, organisational culture and learning, among other things. I’ve been percolating my own blog post on Pop-Culture Leadership Heroes, so I was so excited to see the notification for this post in my Inbox. Thanks so much for sharing.

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