“I’m the Captain Now”, or When to Dump Your Business Plan

Have you seen “Captain Phillips”, which was deservedly nominated for Best Picture of 2013?  You can still catch it on pay-per-view and it’s powerful. Did you know that the line “I’m the Captain now.” which has become the season’s catchphrase and was referred to by the New Yorker as an “iconic line” was IMPROVISED? Improvised by a Somalian taxi driver who had never performed in a film before? Here’s the story:

Barkhad Abdi was six years old when war turned his native Somalia into an inferno. The family fled to Yemen, where his father taught math and eventually settled in Minneapolis, where there is a sizable Somalian community. Abdi was working as a limo driver for his brother’s company when the word came that auditions were being held at the local community center for Somalis to act in “Captain Phillips”,  directed by Paul Greengrass (who filmed United 93 among other major films) and starring Tom Hanks as the skipper of the Alabama Maersk, the cargo ship  that was attacked by Somail pirates in 2009. Abdi and half a dozen other Somalis were hired by Greengrass.

When they started filming the scene where the pirates have boarded the ship, Abdi felt that the point wasn’t being made clearly enough to Hanks and/or his character that things had changed. So he came  out with the  line, “Look at me. I’m the captain now,” which sends chills down your spine every time you see it.  Greengrass kept the line in. He knew gold when he saw it.

As an employer, do you encourage creative improvisation  in your company? You don’t have to be Steve Jobs or Paul Greengrass to do so. When your people come up with something wonderful, tear up your script, throw out your business plan and go with your gut, like Greengrass did. “I’m the captain now” is a classic line on the level of “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” or “Nobody’s perfect.” The genius is in knowing when to dump your carefully laid plans.  The proof is in the watching.

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