Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: A Metaphor for the Consultant's Life?


Last night I was watching The Constant Gardener, featuring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in a compelling drama set in Africa, when at 100 minutes into the film the DVD freezes. Not able to watch the rest of the film. Bad.

I reached into a stack of DVDs from library and grabbed The Magnificent Seven, a film classic. It’s a Western packed with big names – Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and others – and a memorable film score that everyone in my generation recognizes in an instant. Essentially the film is a remake of a Japanese story of heroes protecting common people, Kurasawa’s The Seven Samurai, which few of us were aware of when we were young.

I remember as a kid thinking James Coburn was just so cool. And the heroic opening with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen putting their lives on the line to bury a Negro in the cemetery on Boot Hill takes you to the epitome of cool.

There are a lot of great moments in the film, though. The seven men who come to rescue the Mexican villagers from the cruel band of outlaws led by Wallach (Calvera) are hired guns, men who have put their lives on the line before, though usually for a reward. In this case, the reward is integrity and honor.

One of the great lines in the film is delivered by Bronson when three of the boys from the village express admiration for his courage, and contempt for their fathers’ lack thereof. Bronson verbally chastens the boys saying that the burden of responsibility their peasant fathers bear for nothing more than love for their families, whom they could easily abandon, shows a greater courage than he has ever shown by carrying a gun, having no family and no responsibilities.

Afterwards, I began to think about how the consulting industry is something akin to these hired guns. Each has a different specialty, a different personality, and in the end, when the job is done, a different destiny. There is an appeal to that fly-away freedom that gives the appearance of being greener grass for many. But the reality, by this film’s end, four have been shot dead. And one decides to remain in the village.

In one scene the youngest of the seven is blathering about the thrill of it all when he is brought up short by Steve McQueen’s hard bitten observations about the realities of life on the road. The youth declares to Brynner, with admiration, “Your gun has gotten you everything you have. Isn’t that true?” Brynner looks up, ever the realist, “Everything?” Then McQueen outlines this “everything” that he has gained from being a hired gun. He knows 200 bartenders by name. “Rented rooms you’ve lived in, 500. Meals you eat in hash hounds, a thousand. Home none, wife, none. Kids… none. Prospects zero.” McQueen scratches the sheen off the veneer with realities about life on the road, lessons learned the hard way.

Many consultants, superbly talented with a panoply of tools and weapons, may lack the ability to remain for the long haul in a structured and potentially boring commitment. Others have personal issues and avoid working things out by constantly staying on the move. Still others have great social skills but suffer from wanderlust and limited attention spans. Some see rainbows with bags of gold at the end everywhere they look. Some are simply not cut out for unexpected circumstances, get cut down from behind in the heat of battle. And some ride off into the sunset, with jubilant villagers writing songs about the great things they have done. All these can be recognized in The Magnificent Seven.

At the end of the day, Charles Bronson’s words are the ones that resonate most fully for me. It’s lonely on the road, and there is value in being able to get rooted in a place where you can bloom. It’s a good reminder though, too, that it takes more courage to stay than many people realize.

Whether the road or the office, if you make your choice with your eyes open it will be better for you.

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