What Can we Learn from Kids Shows?
We’ve previously published an article by Tom Bittner on Sci-Fi TV as a lazy, but meaningful form of Professional Military Education (PME), and I liked this article for three reasons. First, I’m a massive geek, second it demonstrates that PME is everywhere, and third it opens the discussion on the most common concern many have when it comes to cultivating personal growth and mastery; the infamous ‘lack of time’ excuse.
Other writers have addressed finding ways of filling dead time or down time with meaningful and enjoyable development opportunities. What follows in this instalment of My Curious Month is my contribution to the cause of #MakingPMEFunAgain, particularly for those in the lost decade with one or more young kids who monopolise their time with their cuteness (interspersed with nappies, naughtiness and noise).
For any parent out there, you and I know that whilst you’d like to have the capacity to avoid the silver screen as a pseudo-carer for your young ones, some days it’s just gotta be about some kiddie Netflix binging. Herein lies the opportunity for parents to get in some PME time. Not by dumping the kid in front of the box and locking yourself in the loo with a good book or podcast – although no-one would blame you if you did – but by watching and learning lessons of relevance to the mastery of warfare from the shows that keep our nearest and dearest tiny humans quiet for 20 minutes a day.
Here are some PME ‘thought nuggets’ I’ve gathered from shows I’ve watched with my 2- and 5-year old kids. I’ve also added some weightier references on the topics that were brought to mind; which I delved into when my fragged daddy brain was more prepared to absorb information targeted above the pre-schooler level.
I have to credit Lieutenant Colonel Tom McDermott for pointing out the value to be found in kids shows. He was the one who observed to me how great a leader Captain Barnacles is. Positive modelling and seeking the advice of mentors are key personal development tools that all leaders should use. Captain Barnacles can be placed firmly in that category.
He has physical presence (he’s a polar bear after all…) and demonstrates countless examples of selflessness in the face of danger– in one episode he leaps through the sponge wall of a whale shark’s throat to rescue a puffer fish. When was the last time you did something like that? But beyond the physicality and heroism he displays, and perhaps more importantly, he demonstrates a number of the key attributes of successful leaders.
He is empathetic to his subordinates and those his team helps. He is clear and concise in the issuing of orders. He listens to and empowers his subordinates as his subject matter experts, even when they sometimes lack the confidence to back themselves. And he understands the fine balance between the time for discussion, debate and a ‘contest of ideas’, and the time for decisions and action. He never shies away from these moments.
So Barnacles inspires me to evaluate my leadership style in greater detail, and to do so I often turn to these great resources: The Army Leader, 3×5 Leadership, The Category Leadership Huddle – Podcast and The Military Leader.
My 5-year old is superhero obsessed; which is unsurprising given I am completely at ease donning my ‘Super Dad’ cape to do the weekly grocery shop. But it also means that one of our Daddy–Son bonding times is cuddling up on the couch to watch PJ Masks of an evening. In one of our favourite episodes, Catboy let the power of being team leader go to his head, and the only ideas that were good ideas were his own.
Needless to say, this didn’t work out too well, and had he listened to Gecko or Owlette sooner they may well have thwarted Romeo and had the episode done and dusted in under 5 minutes.
My son saw some of his favourite superheroes eventually save the day; I saw an important lesson in recognising that as a leader you don’t always have to be the one to come up with all the good ideas– in fact it’s likely you rarely will. But if you trust in and listen to the ideas of your subordinates, complex problems can likely be solved much faster to give your team a competitive advantage.
So, I went back and re-read this great series of articles on Grounded Curiosity by Tim Jones about being an innovative leader and leading innovative organisations. It also got me thinking about mission command again and, in particular, this great concept ‘delegate until you feel uncomfortable and then delegate some more.’
Dinosaurs and Trucks – it’s my youngest sons paradise. Dinotrux central theme is teamwork to overcome adversity, which is an admirable lesson to learn in-and-of itself. In Season 1 Episode 5- Pit I looked a little deeper and found an even cooler PME nugget. During this episode, the protagonists get stuck in a pit and the bad guys (lovely that kids shows still make goodies and baddies so obvious) are guarding the entrance and making it impossible for the Dinotrux to escape. Enter Revvit and his little multi-tool Dinotool buddies playing the part of swarm drones. They zoom in and distract D-Structs (obviously one of the baddies guarding the pit) for just long enough to enable the Dinotrux to engineer a bridge out of the pit. Swarm drones as a deception strategy to enable obstacle breaches anyone?
Logically, this re-ignited my fascination with drones and robots and I was drawn back to two books that look at the current and future usage of robots and drones in war. August Cole and P.W Singer’s excellent novel Ghost Fleet and the heftier, but equally engaging, book Wired For War – The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st century by Singer alone.
Finally, and now we’re really jumping down the rabbit hole of seeing PME in TV programs designed for under 10s, is a lesson learnt from a show designed to introduce younger kids to Transformers– Transformers: Rescue Bots. Basically, in this one a group of four Autobots land on earth and are given a mission by Optimus Prime to help a family of emergency first responders keep their town safe.
In Season 1 Episode 12– The Other Doctor a mad scientist brings in a single robot, called ‘Morbot’, that he argues can do the job of the Autobots and their human partners. A ‘battle royale’ for emergency first response supremacy ensues, and although the Morbot is technically more efficient, the collateral damage and methodology it employs lacks human insight and critically empathy.
Whilst it looks as though this is immaterial as long as the job gets done, ultimately the human-machine teaming option wins. Perhaps the town is just not ready for full automation of critical services, or perhaps when it comes to life and death, humans do need to have a say.
Either way, the idea of human-machine teaming is very topical. The evening after I watched this episode I sat down and absorbed this excellent article on human-machine teaming and the future fight published by The Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
So, next time you castigate yourself for succumbing to using the ‘idiot box nanny’ to maintain your sanity, turn that smushed banana smeared frown upside down as all you’re actually doing is multi-tasking like a boss. Not only are you giving yourself and your little one some much needed quiet time, you’re also growing as a military professional. Heck, pat yourself on the back, because you’re probably preparing the next generation of military leaders to be prepared for the future fight, this curious month.
Have you found PME in odd places? We’d love to hear about it via firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Nick Alexander is a current serving Combat Health Officer, Communications Director of Grounded Curiosity, member of the Military Writers Guild and father of two awesome boys under six. Being a dad is by far the hardest of his four roles. You can follow him on Twitter @Nick_Alexander4.