five reflections from the film
We watched The Imitation Game last week. I’d seen it many years ago, but my boys hadn’t seen it. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend – it looks at the work of Alan Turing and his colleagues during the Second World War as they raced to crack the Enigma Code and give the allies the upper hand. There is so much I could speak of from the film – I found myself contemplating many life lessons within it. I’m going to keep it brief but share these reflections with you today.
Alan Turing experienced significant pain, rejection and loss in his childhood. This shaped the man he would become, both for the good and also to his detriment. There is a poignant scene towards the end of his life where he faces some of his grief for seemingly the first time. The lesson we can learn from this is we cannot choose what we have to face in life, but we can choose how we let it shape and mould us. Holding on to it in a hidden place is never, ever a good idea. Talking to a counsellor, trusted friend, therapist, coach can all help us acknowledge the painful experiences that we have encountered.
Again, at a point in the film, Turing and his team have to make the incredibly difficult decision to hide the fact that they had cracked the Enigma Code. They had to turn a blind eye to an attack so that they could keep their discovery secret. They knew this was the right thing to do, but the costly thing to do. Making this decision shaped them, cost them, lost them friendship, but they had to stick by their convictions. Sometimes we have to do the difficult but right thing. Keep the long game and your integrity in sight when facing your own moments of truth.
I was struck this time around by how we take for granted the incredible work of Turing, Clark and Alexander, but they had to leave their work in the secret place when the war was over. They couldn’t add ‘Enigma Code Mastermind’ or ‘Possibly shortened the Second World War by Two Years’ to their CVs. They couldn’t get the praise that they deserved. There are times when we do great work, or make right, hidden decisions that nobody notices. They don’t have to be incredible things like discoveries or inventions or new ideas or concepts. It’s sometimes things such as taking the lower road so that team or project succeeds. Staying to tidy up when everyone else has gone home. Speaking to the person without strategic significance when those around you flock to those with kudos. We need to make peace with the fact that sometimes our work will be hidden. Nobody will see. You won’t get the praise, it may even go elsewhere. But that’s OK. If we can make our peace with this, we can give our best whatever the world notices.
There’s another scene (I admit may not be entirely factually accurate but that’s OK – the point still stands) when Joan Clarke first arrives on the scene for her cryptanalyst interview. The man on the door tells her she’s in the wrong room and the secretaries are upstairs.
Some sharp intakes of breath in our house at this point.
She holds her ground, and goes on to be one of the sharpest minds in the team. In those days, cryptology was not considered a suitable job for a woman, and even though she progressed to deputy head of her department she could not progress further and was paid less than her male counterparts. Those around her recognised her brilliance, with Hugh Alexander suggesting she was one of the best Banburists (Turing’s methods) they had.
She was looked over, she was underestimated. She did it anyway. She proved them wrong.
Sometimes people will make judgments of us, our capability, our potential.
Oftentimes these will limit us and keep us just where we are. It’s easier that way.
But each of us has greatness in us. And, as Turing said, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
Finally, Turing learnt the hard way that he needed other people. He was dead set on using his new techniques, building the Christopher machine, whether anyone else would come with him or not. He would do it alone and the rest of the cryptographers could do what they liked. They would slow him down, question his methods, impact upon his outcomes. He was wrong.
Building the machine was killing him. He wasn’t able to make the progress he had hoped for on his own. Joan teaches him that we can’t always go it alone and that the beauty of team is that we compensate for one another’s weaknesses. When we are working on something we really believe in, want autonomy over, it can be difficult to let others in. But as we widen the circle, we can achieve more, get there quicker, a build a better outcome. There are times to solo perform, there are times to work with others. It takes wisdom to know the difference.
So, in summary, this week’s Wednesday wisdom:
P.S. I reckon Turing even predicted the invention of Alexa: “…One day ladies will take their computers for walks in the park and tell each other, “My little computer said such a funny thing this morning”.”