You really believe your little story is going to make a difference when there’s a gun to our heads? I think my little story is the only thing between you and a gun to your head.
The clock is ticking for six American “houseguests” at the Canadian ambassador’s home in Tehran as portrayed in the new hit movie Argo. The diplomats have taken refuge there after escaping from the American Embassy in 1979, as mobs stormed the embassy compound and took 52 of their American colleagues hostage for 444 days.
However, it’s becoming apparent Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime will eventually figure out there are Americans unaccounted for, and will likely send the Republican Guards out looking for them.
So the State Department devises an escape plan. CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Argo director and star Ben Affleck), proposes posing as a Hollywood producer who wants to make a movie in Iran, and will claim the six embassy workers are his Canadian film crew.
The idea is to give them fake names, identities, backstories and passports, and fly them all out of Tehran’s airport on a commercial airliner, right under the noses of the rebels guarding every passenger gate.
White House Representative: You have another better bad idea than this?
Mendez’s Boss Jack O’Donnell: This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.
You have another better bad idea than this? This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.
Mendez get the okay, hires a special f/x guy and a producer, sets up a production office on a Hollywood studio backlot, and begins to generate real publicity for his fake movie.
He then flies into Tehran to give the embassy workers their cover stories, which they must eventually memorize and recite. They’re skeptical of the plan though, and struggle to be convincing with their new identities.
This of course frustrates Mendez, who perhaps grasps the gravitas of the situation slightly better than the isolated houseguests and he lashes out. “Look,” he says. “If you can’t even convince yourself who you are, how are you ever going to convince the Revolutionary Guards?” Or something like that.
If you can’t even convince yourself who you are, how are you ever going to convince the Revolutionary Guards?“
As I was watching the movie, that scene really stuck out at me. Even though you’ll never likely have to lie about who you are and bluff your way past authorities in a life or death situation, we do understand intuitively that to be successful in any selling environment, whether it be in a job interview yourself, or selling a candidate on your company or open job req, or a client’s job, we have to be the first to be sold ourselves.
So if these diplomats in Argo aren’t truly internalizing who they are, really seeing themselves as these new people, they won’t be successful. To be more specific using the movie’s language, “They will die badly.”
Of course for the characters in Argo the end game is not whether they see themselves as associate producers or directors or screenwriters, but that they can convince the authorities that’s who they really are.
Some of you may recall I gave a speech recently to a networking group comprised almost entirely of mid-career, middle-aged job seekers. During the Q & A period that followed, this guy raised his hand and said, “The things I am really passionate about I can’t seem to make a living doing. Almost all of my professional experience is in IT, so I need an IT job, even though I don’t want one. How do I fake it?”
I don’t know. How do you do that? How do you answer that? Why you would want to? Fake it that is? Because if there is an utter lack of alignment on the job, that is going to come out soon enough anyway, even if you make it through the interview process, which is unlikely. Why bother?
I would, however, highly recommend bothering to see Argo. It is tight and spare and superbly paced. It also does certainly hold your attention and keep you in suspense throughout even though we know the ending. And that’s no easy feat for a director.
Getting those nervous Americans out of Iran with a crazy, concocted story was no easy feat either. After seeing the movie I did a bunch of online research to find out more about Tony Mendez in particular. I came across this post and interview with the real life Mendez who spoke about the bold plan.
“The genesis of the idea behind Argo was to do something counter-intuitive, something that went against our normal modus operandi. We were full of doubt and our old models were not working. Because the rules had changed we needed new ideas as well.”
“The genesis of the idea behind Argo was to do something counter-intuitive, something that went against our normal modus operandi. We were full of doubt and our old models were not working. Because the rules had changed we needed new ideas as well.
In today’s time starved, short attention span world, the rules for us have changed as well. We need to erase that doubt we carry in varying degrees about our ability to do our jobs, as well as your ability to communicate to others the value of jobs you might be trying to fill.
So go see the movie if you haven’t already. And after seeing six people try to sell themselves with their lives on the line, maybe selling that next great job candidate won’t seem quite as daunting.