Business Management Lessons from “24” TV Series

by Krishna on January 4, 2007

24 is my all-time favorite thriller/action TV series. The format of using 24 episodes to represent 24 hours in real-time is ingenious. Given that one season provides over 18 hours of actual programming time, the series provides a lot of time for fleshing out characters in depth and also providing some realistic organizational dynamics with regard to the Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU), presidential campaigns and the White House. [Maybe the producers are forced to do this because they have so much time to fill and they are locked in by the format that became so successful.] Anyway, assuming that we accept the world of 24, here are some interesting business lessons.

[SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen some episodes of 24, the following may contain references to characters and plot lines which could spoil valuable surprises in case you want to watch previous episodes on DVD or online.]

  1. It doesn’t matter how lofty the organizational goal is or how urgent and critical the task at hand is — Organization members will still find a way to exhibit dysfunctional behavior and avoid helping each other (and sometimes actively hinder their efforts) because of suspicion, ego problems, seniority clashes, and other personal conflicts. Example: Tony Almeida shutting down CTU in the first episode after feeling blue about not being involved enough.
  2. Following protocol and process regardless of the urgency of the task is more important to most people than getting the task done. Even more important is punishing someone who violates the protocol (e.g.:- using satellites to track down Jack Bauer, firing Chloe). A side effect of this rule is that when following the process is proven to have been ineffective, the rule makers then do a 360-degree and start doing more damage by arbitrarily violating them and hurting the innocent (e.g.:- Erin Driscoll torturing Sarah Gavin).
  3. Even in the face of extreme danger, people keep their mouths shut about important happenings just to avoid personal embarrassment. E.g:- the Secretary’s son Richard Heller keeping quiet about his companion, Lynn McGill not providing information about the loss of his card.
  4. Evil people can exist within your organization (Nina Myers) and also more commonly, outside the organization. Furthermore, they don’t consider themselves evil. They consider you evil and many of them (most of the 24 antagonists) are ready to die or undergo torture to get back at you. In the business world, they may not be willing to die (:-)), but however bad you think of them, you can be sure that they can match that with their view of you.
  5. Leave your organization alone — Even highly motivated evil people don’t communicate properly. Remember how Nina almost got killed in the first season when the first team to take out David Palmer didn’t know that she was on their side.
  6. There will be bosses (Ryan Chappelle) who are only interested in saving their own skin. They will stop you from violating protocol at any cost, but they may be amenable to “bending the truth” if you do it under their watch without telling them.
  7. You can be written off at any time. Even if you were a big shot once, you may not even get the Silent Clock.

The next season starts on January 14th. Enjoy!

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