Monday, February 15, 2016

Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” turns 80

This month Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” turns 80. It was first released on Feb 5, 1936. That makes it roughly as old as my parents. It is one of my favourite movies. Here are a few snapshots from the movie and what they trigger in me.

Monotonous work: This is perhaps one of the classic moments which depicts the life of a typical worker – monotonous and boring. I began showing this picture in my workshops after my friend Akki introduced it in one of the innovathon workshops at ADP. Why does one innovate? At least one reason why people innovate is because they are bored of the routine.

Today we have more knowledge workers who sit in front of a computer screen instead of work on the assembly line. However, when I talk to my friends working in the Hitech companies in Bangalore, they also seem to be bored as they approach and cross their 40s.

Lack of empathy: “Don’t stop for lunch, be ahead of your competitors”. That’s the slogan of the feeding machine being presented. I use this part to show what “lack of empathy” looks like in Design Thinking workshops. After all, a lunch break is also a much needed break from work. How can it possibly be a welcome sign? After the laughter is subsided while watching the 200 rpm corn feeding process, someone points out “Perhaps it could be useful to bedridden / disabled people.” That’s exactly what products like E-Z Eat self feeding machine try to do targeting people with Parkinson’s.

Prisoner of the mind: “Can’t I stay a little longer? I’m so happy here.” That’s what the Tramp says to the jail superintendent who tells him “You are a free man!” There is unemployment outside while life is so peaceful inside the prison. At least the food and shelter is taken care. Is Charlie Chaplin metaphorically hinting that we are the prisoners of our own mind and we could be at peace anywhere, even in the jail?

Creative confidence: The Tramp is going through all the struggles – a job here, a job there. Here he gets an opportunity to do song and dance. And he forgets his lyrics. At that moment, his girlfriend tells him “Just sing, forget the words”. And out comes a spontaneous creative performance. A person who would have never imagined himself to be creative while fixing the bolts on the assembly line, suddenly develops an ounce of creative confidence. 

Don’t we all need such moments? Just watch out, perhaps such moments are passing by and you are ignoring them.

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