Why Suicide Squad reminds me of bad corporate learning

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The joke is really on the viewers this time. Suicide Squad is a horrible movie. Just horrible. If you’d like to hear just how horrible it is without spending $$ on a ticket, listen to this podcast review/rant session from the guys at CinemaSins. This movie makes Batman v Superman look much more satisfactory (but still not awesome).

Rather than writing about what we can learn about L&D from the Rio Olympics, I decided to take the slightly more depressing bad comic book movie route. So, here are a few ways I think Suicide Squad is reminiscent of bad corporate learning. And of course …

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It was positioned as a silver bullet solution.

The marketing team behind this movie deserves all the praise in the world. After all, they pumped up the hype so much that a universally-panned film made $133.6 million in its opening weekend. How can you watch this trailer and not get excited?

This movie was heralded as the one that would right the ship of the DC Extended Universe. Where Man of Steel and Batman v Superman failed, Suicide Squad would succeed and setup DC to better compete with Marvel heading into 2017’s Wonder Woman. Well, not so much. Even if was an OK film, DC needs a lot more than a single offering to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has been 8 years in the making.

When something goes bad in the workplace, the tendency is to throw training at it. For example, what happens when someone gets hurt? We often rush into development on a new eLearning module and make everyone complete it ASAP. Now that we have a check in the completed box, no one will get hurt like that again, right? We all know that doesn’t work, but we keep doing it anyway -often because that’s the only way our stakeholders know how to respond. A modern L&D team knows that you can’t fix a big problem with a single piece of content and instead applies a well-crafted, sustainable approach that aligns to the real ways people learn at work.

It was built in reaction to past feedback.

Suicide Squad was clearly produced in response to viewer feedback from recent DC movies. Both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were dogged for their melancholy tone. Aren’t superhero movies supposed to be fun? Enter the awkwardly unbalanced quirk and awkward joke bonanza that is Suicide Squad. If Will Smith can’t make a movie fun, then who can? They should have taken a note from the Deadpool script and gone down the quirky R-rated path instead.

Leveraging past feedback to inform current strategy is certainly a good idea when it comes to L&D. However, we often fail to take context into account at the same time. If an instructor-led event was a great way to address a past performance need, it doesn’t mean it’s the best solution this time. A modern L&D team should establish a consistent framework and toolset but apply only right-fit strategies to solve current challenges.

It tries to be everything to everyone.

A pile of new characters. A magical villain. A bad government agent. Bullets and one-liners galore. This movie wants to check all of the boxes in 2 hours and 10 minutes. In the meantime, we don’t get to really meet any characters not named Deadshot or Harley Quinn. Batman is (almost appropriately) used as a backstory element, and Joker is … well … kinda in the movie for some reason. The movie tries to do so much that it never accomplishes anything special – unlike BvS which at least had that one mega-awesome Batman scene.

We swing for the fences A LOT in L&D. We identify a big, enterprise-wide problem and try to find the strategy that will take care of it in one fell swoop. This often results in the “cover problem” (to borrow the concept from Bob Mosher). Rather than focus on small but meaningful problems for the right people, we push big, generalized, irrelevant content at everyone in an attempt to demonstrate maximum value to the organization. The bigger the projects we’re involved with, the more important we have to be, right? A modern L&D team avoids getting caught up in the ‘everyone needs this” trap and targets foundational problems with specific, measurable outcomes.

The experts weren’t left alone to do their job.

Have you seen any other David Ayer movies? This guy directed End of Watch and wrote Training Day, both gritty street crime dramas. Ayer, like many other directors and artists in general, has a noticeable style, and its visible in parts of Suicide Squad. But in other parts, its completely missing. We know the movie went into very public reshoots late in the game after fan reaction to early trailers. It’s possible the studio took control of the tone of the movie – resulting in the unbalanced story and lack of overall continuity.

How many review cycles do you have to put your L&D materials through? How many sets of eyes are required? How many people tell you how to do your job on a regular basis? When SMEs require additional content be “covered,” it’s very similar to an overbearing movie studio taking away final edit. We’re paid to do a job because (in theory) we’re good at it. Therefore, a modern L&D team knows how to best engage SMEs and ensure buy-in without sacrificing the quality and relevance of their solutions.


Have you seen Suicide Squad? What did you think? Are my comparisons way off, or can you see the similarities? 

Why Suicide Squad reminds me of bad corporate learning

by JD Dillon time to read: 4 min
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