Study Materials

Required readings and movies for these study questions can be found in the Readings section.

  1. Introduction: The Importance of Story
  2. Ethics and Authority
  3. Leading from my Moral Compass
  4. Social Enterprise
  5. Conclusion: Leading Through Story

1. Introduction: The Importance of Story

Session 1

  1. In “Strategic Stories,” the authors comment: “A good story (and a good strategic plan) defines relationships, a sequence of events, cause and effect, and a priority among items—and those elements are likely to be remembered as a complex whole.” (p. 4) Can you think of examples from your work experience—whether in the planning process or as part of company culture—that confirm this assertion?
  2. What is the “narrative logic” (p. 5) of your decision to attend Sloan?
  3. In Du Bose Heyward’s story, does the Country Bunny need or receive mentoring?
  4. Do the Country Bunny’s family structure and parenting style provide an appropriate model for corporate organization and management? Compare that model with the one described in Cheaper by the Dozen.

Session 2

  1. Can you find an element of social enterprise in the system that has evolved around the main characters in The Lives of Others? Why does it not seem to work?
  2. Is there a “professional” component to the way in which Dreyman, Sieland, and Wiesler, respectively, behave? What might it mean to behave professionally, based on what we see in their case, and how would it apply to you?
  3. Can you articulate the changes experienced by the three main characters in the course of the film? Based on those changes, can or do you believe in the possibility of the existence of a “good man”?

2. Ethics and Authority

Session 3

  1. How would you describe the community in which the Derranes live at the beginning of “Two Lovely Beasts”?
  2. What is Kate Higgins’ hold on Colm Derrane?
  3. “Seeing their parents happily united again, the children also became imbued with enthusiasm. They willingly consented to make sacrifices for the common effort. Even the youngest boy, barely five years old, had a little job to do every day. The whole family worked like bees in a hive” (p. 22). How does the family’s response here to Colm and his vision compare with other people’s views of him in this story?

Session 4

  1. In the film, Mon oncle d’Amérique, Jean, Janine, and René face changes on the job. Do their challenges square with your own experience of career change and the personal costs it can entail?
  2. What are the scientist Henri Laborit’s views on human behavior in the workplace? How are they mirrored in the film’s narrative elements—film clips, voice-over, editorial juxtapositions?
  3. Who is “my uncle from America” for each of the main characters in the film? Does that figure have anything to do with America as we know it?

Session 5

  1. Early in Crouching Tiger, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) cites the importance of “codes” of behavior: what are those codes in the film, and how do they relate to one another?
  2. How would you define the relations between Jen / Yu Jiao Long (Zhang Ziyi) and the other characters in the film?
  3. What is the role of expertise or mastery in the film? What authority does it confer?

Session 6

  1. What kind of woman is Clarissa Dalloway, and what role does she seek to fulfill in this novel (Mrs. Dalloway)?
  2. How does Septimus Warren Smith, who never meets Clarissa, nevertheless intersect with her world?
  3. Can we speak of a place for ethics in the worlds sketched around these characters? Why does death loom so large for them, and how do they—and we—address that presence?

Session 7

  1. How would you describe the roles of the three main characters in The Queen—Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Diana, Princess of Wales—and the challenges each of them faces?
  2. Why does the Queen change her stance on Diana’s funeral?
  3. Who are “the people,” based on Frears’ film and Woolf’s novel?

3. Leading from My Moral Compass

Session 8

  1. How would you describe Paul Rusesabagina—manager, leader, humanitarian?
  2. What survival skills did Rusesabagina use in protecting his refugee population at the Hotel des Mille Collines? Was ethics a factor in his decision-making processes?
  3. How would you assess the behavior of the Western legal, journalistic, medical, military, and political figures in the film? What choices did they have in confronting the crisis in Rwanda?

Session 9

  1. Having read “Raizel Kaidish,” how would you define “ethics”?
  2. What is the relation of emotion to rationality in our decision-making processes? Can you find a link here first between Marta and Raizel Kaidish, and then between Marta and her own daughter, Rose, and Marta’s ethical theory?
  3. What is the role of “story” in this story? How does story define ethics for the characters involved

Session 10

  1. Could the situation captured in The Descendants have occurred without Elizabeth King—Matt’s wife and his daughters’ mother—being in a coma?
  2. Why does Matt pursue his wife’s lover, in order to inform him of her impending death?
  3. How does Matt King’s pending decision on the sale of family land factor into the film as a whole?

Session 11

Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

  1. “Deep reading, says the study’s lead researcher, Nicole Speer, ‘is by no means a passive exercise.’ The reader becomes the book” (p. 74). Has that happened to you in the course of your reading / viewing for 15.269?
  2. “we have rejected the intellectual tradition of solitary, single-minded concentration, the ethic that the book bestowed on us. We have cast our lot with the juggler” (p. 114). Who is “the juggler,” and do you agree with Carr’s assertion?
  3. Prepare a story for your 15.269 team that reflects the importance of social media in your life, or the lack thereof. What makes a good story on-line?

Session 12

  1. What do we know about Adam Gordon at the end of the book that we didn’t know, but might have guessed, at the beginning?
  2. How does Adam relate to the very real historical events that occur in Madrid during his time there?
  3. Would you describe his play with two languages—English and Spanish—as indicative of the opportunities and challenges that come with leading in a globalized world?

4. Social Enterprise

Session 13

  1. How do you see Hotel Rwanda now, several classes later, in light of Paul Rusesabagina’s portrait of his society and himself?
  2. What were Romeo Dallaire’s leaderly and professional challenges, as captured in his account of his time in Rwanda, and why does he insist he did not meet them?
  3. Can you state the ethical response to genocide that E. O. Wilson’s environmental assessment entails?

Session 14

  1. How does the health of the young “Che” Guevara play into the adventures on which he has embarked with his friend and fellow health care aspirant, Alberto Granado?
  2. What is the Latin America that the two young men discover?
  3. What is Che’s “story”? In what elements of his journey does it consist, and to whom does it appeal?

Session 15

  1. What kind of man is Edward Snowden?
  2. Does he have a vision for / of the good society?
  3. What role does Poitras, as a documentary filmmaker, play in achieving Snowden’s vision?

Session 16

  1. Have you encountered people like Sir Thomas More—or Henry VIII, or Cromwell, or Rich—in your work? How do they function as colleagues? What is their sense of their profession?
  2. Can one speak of multiple spheres in the world Bolt portrays in A Man for All Seasons? If so, does each have its own rules or morals, or do the inhabitants of all of them apply the same standards to their behavior?
  3. “Affection goes as deep in me as you think, but only God is love right through, Howard; and that’s my self” (p. 122). What is a “self” in Bolt’s play, and what roles does it play for all of us in society and in our organizations?

Session 17

  1. Early in Shall We Dance?, the narrator explains that Western-style ballroom dancing is a suspect activity in Japanese culture. Does the film make clear why that might be the case? Can you think of similar taboos in the West?
  2. How would you characterize Mr. Sugiyama’s workplace and colleagues, and his relationship to both? How can and does he confront those frameworks?
  3. Can we speak of a “romance” between Mr. Sugiyama and Mai? What do they represent, individually and as a pair, for all the other characters in the film?

Session 18

  1. What means does Antonia use to establish her “line,” and what conditions favor her endeavor?
  2. What place do intellect and classical knowledge have in the world of these characters?
  3. From the Country Bunny to Antonia, we have seen men and women managing organizations, from households to bands to family trusts to kingdoms and back. Can you articulate a consistent and inclusive theory of that management role?

5. Conclusion: Leading Through Story

Session 19

  1. Late in Copenhagen, the physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg have the following exchange: Bohr: “Heisenberg, I have to say—if people are to be measured strictly in terms of observable quantities . . .” Heisenberg: “Then we should need a strange new quantum ethics. There’d be a place in heaven for” (92) What are these two men saying to each other? What does Heisenberg mean by “quantum ethics”?
  2. What is Margrethe’s role in this play? How does her comment that “what I see isn’t a story? It’s confusion and rage . . .” (p. 73) reflect on the central methodological principle of 15.269?
  3. Could Frayn have written this play about businesspeople? What organizational roles might Bohr and Heisenberg fill?

Session 20

  1. What relation did surf culture bear to the rest of American society when it began? Today?
  2. What corporate model matches the evolving world of the surf community as described in Riding Giants?
  3. Why is riding giant waves so important to those who do so? What symbolic role does that occupation have for the rest of the surf world, and for those who don’t surf at all?

Session 21

  1. What role does story play in Slumdog Millionaire? How many stories does Jamal (Dev Patel) tell?
  2. How do the game show proceedings qualify Jamal’s search for his true love, Latika? Why is it important that the whole nation follow his performance?
  3. What do you make of the answer, at the close of the film—“D: It is written”—to its opening question about Jamal’s success? How does the Bollywood dance sequence that follows it define the film as a whole?

Session 22

  1. How do the stories that we have read and viewed in 15.269 bear on the stories that Ready would have us tell in our organizations?
  2. Can you imagine a story you might tell in the workplace about the time you spent at MIT Sloan, and what it taught you about leadership?
  3. Looking back on the session you co-taught earlier in the semester, would you now change your view of the text or film you addressed? If so, how?
  4. What story, film, or non-fiction material would you like to see included in future iterations of this course?

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2015
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Written Assignments
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