Lessons from The Hunger Games

I’ve had a few people recommend that I read the Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. And now that my namesake, Jennifer Lawrence, is going to be playing the protagonist in the movie version, I figured I should give it a spin.

For those of you without teenagers in the house, The Hunger Games is a dystopian tale where a totalitarian regime known as The Capitol, exercises control over the people living in the 12 outlying districts by keeping them in a state of semi-starvation. As an additional show of power, once a year The Capitol hosts The Hunger Games, making two teenagers — Tributes — from each of the 12 districts fight each other to the death on television. The novel follows 16-year old Tribute, Katniss Everdeen, as she fights for her life in The Games. In addition to trying to survive against the other 23 Tributes, she must find food, water, and shelter in a deliberately hostile environment. Plus, the people running The Hunger Games keep changing the rules.

It’s not unlike the workplace.

As in the workplace, the key to Katniss’s survival during this period of acute crisis is her ability to make good decisions. She does three things particularly well:

1. Buys time by seeking higher ground. Katniss is a very good climber. When everyone else is on the ground, attempting to slaughter one another, she climbs up into a tree. This allows a safe place from which to look around and formulate a plan. When, like Katniss, you have to make decisions in the midst of chaos, it can be helpful to climb the proverbial tree. Close your office door, walk around the block, call a break in the meeting: you need to get to a place where you can see the issues from a different perspective.

2. Keeps some resources in reserve. During The Games, Katniss finds a bow and 12 arrows, a useful weapon for a skilled hunter like her. She knows she must make the weapons last for the duration of The Games and therefore cannot be careless with her resources. Often, when we are in crisis mode, we throw resources at the problem rather than taking the time to plan things out. If we prematurely deplete our resources during a crisis, we can quickly find ourselves in the midst of disaster. The bigger the crisis, the more important it is to plan.

3. Considers all of her options. Katniss’s competitors have located a huge pyramid of food that gives them an unfair advantage. Katniss knows that she must destroy their food supply in order to have a shot at winning. The food is protected by a web of land mines and in this passage from the book, she is trying to figure out a way to destroy the food without setting off the mines:

There is a solution to this, I know there is, if I can only focus hard enough. I stare at the pyramid, the bins, the crates, too heavy to topple over with an arrow. Maybe one contains cooking oil, and the burning arrow idea is reviving when I realize I could end up losing all twelve of my arrows and not get a direct hit on a oil bin, since I’d just be guessing. I’m genuinely thinking of trying to re-create [another Tribute’s…] trip up to the pyramid in hopes of finding a new means of destruction when my eyes light on the burlap bag of apples. I could sever the role in one shot, didn’t I do as much in the Training Center? It’s a big bag, but it still might only be good for one explosion. Of only I could free the apples themselves…

She looks at all of her options, including ones that she’d previously dismissed. She considers how her competitors have tackled the problem. She looks at her past experiences. She also gives herself the time to consider some creative options like trying to free the apples. In a crisis, the temptation is to jump to a decision quickly but it often makes sense to take some time to think through things and weigh the various options.

Luckily most days do not require us to make life or death decisions under such stressful conditions, but taking some time to gain perspective, determine the required resources, and consider all the options can make any crisis more manageable.

{ 1 comment }

jen September 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm

If the decision has a major impact, then it’s essential to make the time. If there is not that big an impact — and the decision is not on the critical path — then by all means “blink.” Thanks for commenting!

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