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The Intern


I just watched The Intern today. Like I always do, I went into this movie without having a clue as to what the plot was. I just decided to watch it because of Anne Hathaway. Looking at the poster, I assumed it would be a movie where Anne Hathaway interns with Robert De Niro. It is actually the other way around.

The movie starts with 70-year old Ben Whittaker (played by Robert De Niro) coming across an advert for a company hiring senior citizens as interns. Having retired from his job where he spent 40 years, having lost his wife of 42 years to natural death, having seen his kids settle down with their partners and kids, having traveled the world after his retirement, 70-year old Ben Whittaker decides to apply for the internship, simply to have something to do to pass the time.

The internship turns out to be at an 18-month old e-commerce startup founded and run by Jules Ostin (played by Anne Hathaway) as her executive assistant. So, this is where the story begins.

The interesting part of the story, at least to me, was probably not what the director was trying to point out. Instead, it was witnessing how someone with nothing really to be gained or lost by his behaviour chooses to behave. At 70 years of age and financially secure, Ben has absolutely nothing to gain or lose by what he does at work, so what he does is primarily driven by his value system. The values drive him to do the right thing by everyone, always.

Every company today is figuring out ways to ensure the culture and values they want in the company are imbibed by the employees. And most of these efforts are more on the cosmetic and the verbiage side. A cursory attempt that rarely succeeds.

The only way to get this right is to ensure every employee feels like 70-year old Ben Whittaker does at Above The Fit (the company founded by Jules Ostin). Where they have nothing to gain or lose, people end up doing what's right by everyone. And if they don't, they aren't the right people to have been hired in the first place.

Maybe not everyone wants to have a workplace like this, maybe they want to drive their employees by controlling extrinsic motivators (like Goldman Sachs). Maybe they don't.

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