Pulp Fiction is one of the best movies ever made (citation not needed). Not only does it have great storytelling, it also includes a project management case study.
In one of the final scenes, Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Marvin (Phil LaMarr) are in a car discussing bullet trajectories and divine intervention. Everything is fun until BLAM! Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face. The situation is critical, Jules calls Jimmy (Quentin Tarantino) who lives nearby and parks the car in his garage. Jimmy’s wife will be home soon and if she sees any of that, she’s going to want a divorce. Jules calls Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), who sends the Wolf (Harvey Keitel) to untangle the situation. In his own words: “I solve problems”.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Wolf after hearing this comment in CinemaSins’s Everything wrong with Pulp Fiction.
The Wolf is a great addition to the cast, and he definitely sees the situation with a calmer eye and all that, but this plan is… pretty straightforward, right? They have to clean the car, put the body in the trunk, then clean themselves. The only REAL assistance Winston gives is to call Monster Joe, but the could’ve done that from the party.
The observation is technically correct, but misses the point. Yes the Wolf’s plan is straightforward, yet nobody was taking action until he showed up. They were standing in the kitchen sipping coffee. The Wolf’s ability was in managing the situation, not in the complexity of his plan. Here are some reasons the Wolf deserves his praise.
He connects with people on a human level
At Jimmy’s house, the Wolf acknowledges everybody by name at least once (“You must be Jules, which would make you Vincent.”). Instead of acting right away based on his own assumptions, he describes the situation in his own words and asks for confirmation from Jimmy.
If I was informed correctly the clock is ticking. Is that right Jimmy?
A-ha, 100 per cent.
Your wife Bonnie comes home at 9:30 AM. Is that correct?
I was lead to believe if she comes home and finds us here, she wouldn’t appreciate it none too much?
She wouldn’t that.
This is a key element of his success. His first interaction with anybody communicates: “I see you, I feel you, I understand why you’re in distress. You are no longer one against the other, we have a common problem and I will help you fix it.”.
He sets expectations clearly
A lesser mind would have told Jules and Vincent to “Just clean the car ASAP!” and asked for an update every two minutes. Instead the Wolf is specific on what he wants to achieve. He doesn’t let Jules and Vincent figure out how to get the cleaning equipment on their own. He asks Jimmy for confirmation that the cleaning products are in the garage and explicitly mentions to use them. Our hero then describes every cleaning step in detail.
[…] Take the body stick it in the trunk. […] I need you two folks to take those cleaning products and clean the inside of the car. I’m talking fast, fast, fast. You need to go in the back seat, scoop all those little pieces of brain and skull, get it out of there. Wipe down the upholstery. Now when it comes to the upholstery no need to be spick and span, you don’t need to eat off it. Just do one good once-over. What you need to take care of are the really messy parts. The pools of blood that have collected, you gotta soak that shit up.
He then leaves no room for interpretation about the objective. They want the car to look good at a first glance, not at close inspection.
[…] We need to camouflage the interior of the car. We’re gonna line the front seat and the back seat and the floorboards with quilts and blankets. So if a cop stops us and starts sticking his big snout in the car the subterfuge won’t last, but at a glance the car will appear to be normal.
He takes ownership of the project
In one of Vincent’s lowest moment, he questions the Wolf’s methods (“Please would be nice.”). The Wolf is firm in his response. He’s not there to make friends, he has a job to do and he’s going to ensure that it gets done well. He’s not afraid to break out of his polite manners to make it clear.
If I’m curt with you is because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast if you want to get out of this. So pretty please, with sugar on top, clean the fucking car.
He treats everybody with respect
The Wolf is an experienced professional, but he is still just a man. His success depends on everybody doing their job well, however trivial such as providing him with dark blankets to cover blood stains.
He doesn’t take the clash with Vincent personally, as people make stupid decision in stressful situations. In the end they all shake hands. The respect he gets comes from the respect he gives.
The Wolf demonstrates how good project management works. It is not necessarily about having the best expertise or finding complex solutions. It is about enabling people to fulfil their potential to reach specific objectives. Anybody can discuss how things could be better, but putting that knowledge into action requires a deep understating of human nature.tags: Movies