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by Kaitlin McManus | July 15, 2020


Is anyone else watching way too much TV these days? I love reading, but even I can’t fill all my free time with books anymore. And, since my days can fairly easily be broken up into work time, Zoom-calls-with-friends time, and TV time, I find myself thinking a lot about TV during the workday and vice versa. I know TV is supposed to be entertainment, but I honestly think that some of the shows I’ve been watching since March have some great lessons to teach too. So here’s a roundup of some of the workplace lessons I’ve learned from streaming.

It’s Okay Not to See Eye to Eye – Buzzfeed Unsolved

A webseries that has evolved into a full-on show, Buzzfeed Unsolved investigates real-life reports of supernatural myths and activities. The fun at the heart of the show is its hosts, Ryan and Shane, and their opposing views on the supernatural. Ryan is a firm believer that the truth is out there, while Shane is an unshakeable skeptic. And yet, they’re great friends and work together closely on the show. It’s not without teasing and bad jokes, but I think this is an excellent example of how you don’t need to agree with your coworkers on everything to produce great work. The important thing is that you get along by respecting each other’s viewpoints. Chances are really good that you have different opinions and values than some of your coworkers, so it’s important that you find a way to work well with them in spite of—or, hopefully because of—your differences. In fact, this is one of the core principles at the heart of diversity and inclusion; having different people with different viewpoints coming together can take a workplace from good to great.

Manners Matter – Hannibal

Alright, clearly there are a lot of basic lessons one could learn from Hannibal, the show based on Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon—like how you shouldn’t murder people or how cannibalism is generally frowned upon. But consider this: How the heck did Hannibal Lecter get away with feeding dinner guests hearty helpings of long pig (look it up) for years before someone figured it out? In part, I think, because he did it with incredible manners. Most of the characters saw Dr. Lecter as having an air of old-school politeness and courtesy, which stood in the way of them believing he was a serial killer. I’m not saying that good manners will let you get away with anything—that would be a bad lesson to take away from this—but it goes to show that people’s perception of you starts with you. And good manners can make a huge difference when it comes to making a good impression. I know that minding your Ps and Qs is just basic professional etiquette, but I think even seasoned professionals need to be reminded that manners matter from time to time.

It’s Okay to Fail – Nailed It!

No one can be good at everything, even if pressure can make it feel like you’re supposed to be sometimes. But there’s something to be said for people like the home cooks on Nailed It!, who are generally not amazing bakers but go for it anyway. The results are usually … not great. And are usually really funny. But they still learn things while on the show, like new techniques and recipes, that help them to grow as bakers. And I think it goes to show that “failure” doesn’t mean that the experience was a total wash. Of course, not being able to recreate an insane cake and not being up to a task at work are two different things, and they have much different consequences. But as long as you maintain a positive attitude, learn something from your mistakes, and avoid them in the future, then failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So the next time something doesn’t quite go according to plan, try to take it in stride, and figure out how you can nail it for real next time.

You Need to Have a Wide Scope – Little Fires Everywhere

I know this is blasphemy, but this is one of those rare instances where the TV show is better than the book. The awesome thing about this show that encompasses race, class, and motherhood is that, in the entire ensemble cast, not one character has a full picture of the situation they find themselves in. Everyone seems to think they’ve got a good idea of what’s going on, but no one does. It’s the dramatic equivalent of the blind men and the elephant fable, and it makes for powerful television. But it got me thinking: Sometimes, when it comes to problem-solving, our scope can be a bit narrow. They say that if you’re holding a hammer, you tend to see all of your problems as nails—but that means that you might be missing something. When considering a problem in the workplace, try looking at it from a different perspective: from your manager’s, your direct reports’, or even another department’s. Viewing a problem from all angles can provide you with better, more creative solutions.

Life lessons can come from just about anywhere—even TV. Media can serve as a reminder of how our own behaviors may appear and affect others. And there is no better place to apply these lessons than the workplace—or remote workspace—where reputation and perception are critical.