Top 10 Management & Life Lessons: Mission Mangal

We have always had an ambivalent relationship with Mars, the red planet. When not getting a job, experiencing a delay in marriage, having relationship issues with parents, siblings, spouses or not getting promoted, we are usually very prompt to blame it on a retrograde Mars in our horoscope.

Director Jagan Shakti, and writers R.Balki and Rituraj Tripathi have given us an inspiring movie on “Mission Mangal,” a narrative on how India’s space agency, ISRO successfully delivered on the objective to send a probe to Mars.

It’s a tale told with a lot of heart and passion. The writers have made the characters come alive and, in the process, shared so many real-life problems and creative, mindful ways to deal with them. Vidya Balan’s character, in particular, is nuanced and she gets the maximum share of communicating several teachable moments. Of course, I am uncomfortable with the over-trivializing of science, too much focus on backstories of the women scientists and projecting only the men as workplace leaders. But then, that’s the film industry for you.

My take on the top 10 management and life lessons from the movie are listed below.

1.     Apply Jugaad (A unique Indian term used to describe resourcefulness of the highest order): Don’t have a budget – no problem. Think creatively, find out a project with a sanctioned budget, which is not being used and get the approval for diverting the funds and resources.

2.     Hone your EQ – Learn from how Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar’s character) appealed to the Director’s memories of his younger self, his days of frugal experimentation and success with Dr APJ Kalam. Tapping into those memories, helped them maintain a soft corner in the Director’s heart. Witness how the Director helped them despite tough opposition.

3.     Observe, Absorb, Experiment – The movie is full of many such examples where routine observations trigger a thought process for solving a bigger problem. Varsha Gowda, (Vidya Balan’s character) applies home science to solving rocket science problems (puri’s in hot oil with the gas turned off and saving fuel). The structural engineer reduces the weight of the rocket by using material made from ocean plastics. Of course, the movie does oversimplify science to an almost comical degree. However, you do get the drift that application of learnings across disciplines is the key to solving problems.

4.     Power of Teamwork– Rakesh Dhawan did not get his A-team. But he and Varsha Gowda managed to get the best from the B team that they were allocated. The key was to build a strong emotional connect with the mission, in this case, Mission Mangal, and increase their stakes in the project.

5.     Back your team – The example here is of how Varsha Pillai (essayed by Nithya Menen) is provided all support at the workplace during her precious pregnancy and afterward.

6.     Find your dream in the Here and Now: This is important. Eka Gandhi (Sonakshi Sinha’s character) wants to get her dream job in NASA. When she realizes that Mission Mangal in ISRO is really her dream job, she lets go of the NASA dream and gives her all to the project. It’s a similar story for the other characters as they discover how they can relate to the Mission Mangal. The scene where Varsha Gowda arranges a celebration is an excellent example of how you can rejuvenate your team, minus the song and dance routine of course.

7.     Be your child’s friend – As a poised Varsha placates her anxious husband, Sunil (Sanjay Kapoor), when their daughter has not arrived home late at night, we get to see how she takes charge of the situation and gets information out from her daughter’s friends. As the duo rushes to a nightclub to fetch their rebellious daughter home, Varsha is confident that her daughter won’t do anything wrong. She gets a flustered and paranoid husband to calm down and actually enjoy. Her words to the effect that one needs to be friends with one’s children and also have the phone numbers of their friends were the key takeaway.

8.     Be Tolerant and Inclusive – Notice how coolly Varsha takes it into her stride when her aspiring musician son, Dilip is interested in Islam, inspired by  A.R.Rahman, while her husband is getting flustered and paranoid as always. The scene where Vidya is praying and her son asks her, how she reconciles being a scientist and praying to God is beautiful, without being preachy. Neha Siddique (Kirti Kulhari) experiences Islamophobia as she goes house hunting. It is the senior-most scientist in the group who finally helps her and mind you, he is also an ardent practitioner of his faith.

9.     Let go of “Those Were The Days” – Poor Sunil. He just can’t come out of “Those Were The Days.” Everybody in his house irritates him and makes fun of him. It is only when he lets go of his need to control and make everything perfect, can he become friends with his children and actually start enjoying life. Take on the “Here & Now.”

10.  Embrace Your Opposition: In the end, Dhawan embraces Rupert, his arch enemy and says you were the best opposition and made sure I do my best. That’s the spirit you need to have. Leave your professional discords at work. Filter the constructive criticism and work on it.

The biggest lesson of course is DON’T GIVE UP. How a team of a failed project director and a B team manage to send India’s mission to Mars is the stuff dreams are made of.

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