Better to be Gilligan than the Skipper: Workplace Lessons from the Famous Castaways

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Who would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

Your first response might be someone you are physically attracted to – Ryan Gosling or Megan Fox or that new grad in finance who wears the short skirts and high heeled boots. But if you think about it, these wouldn’t be the best choices. You’re going to need food and water. Building a fire will be key. You’ll need to build a shelter. A pretty face doesn’t mean much when you’re cold and hungry and dying of thirst. I doubt Mr. Gosling or Ms. Fox would be much help in these circumstances. Maybe that young lady from finance was a girl scout and would be of some use, but she’d have to find some sensible shoes. No, you need someone around you who can help you survive and even thrive, perhaps also aid you in getting rescued. You also may be on this island a long time, and want someone with whom you can get along. Beautiful eyes don’t mean much if there’s no brain behind it.

The workplace is like being stranded. When you’re hired, you are put in foreign surroundings with people not of your choosing. You are depending on these people for your success. If these people aren’t the right sort of people, you either won’t make it, or you’ll end up going crazy.

So when determining what sort of coworkers you want, and what type of coworker you want to be, it helps to think of it as if though you were all castaways on a remote tropical island.

And what better castaways to look to for examples than those famous survivors of a three hour cruise, the characters on Gilligan’s Island? They may be over-the-top caricatures, but in one form or another each can be found in most workplaces.

The Skipper: Captain of the S.S. Minnow, the boat that got struck aground during its three-hour cruise.

At first, you would think this leader and war veteran would be great to have with you. Think again. Not only is he brash and moody, physically striking Gilligan when Gilligan messes up, he’s also incompetent. He was the captain, in charge of the safety of his crew and passengers, and what did he do? He took them out on the ocean despite an impending storm. Worse yet, he blames Gilligan for it. Good leaders don’t blame their subordinates when something goes wrong.

The Professor: A man of science who could probably build a nuclear reactor if he had enough coconuts.

Not only is the Professor smart and resourceful, he’s also a nice guy. He’s a problem solver. Without him, the castaways would probably all be living on the open beach, without even a radio to listen to for the latest news. Sure, the argument has been made that if he was so resourceful, why couldn’t he build a raft, but how long would the show have lasted if he did that?

Thurston Howell III and his wife: A snobby millionaire couple, one of whom sounds remarkably like Mister McGoo. I lumped them together because they are basically the same character.

Okay, let’s get past the fact that if this couple was so rich, why didn’t they have their own yacht instead of taking the rinky dink USS Minnow out for a spin? They’re entitled and self-absorbed. They never lift a finger to help anyone, and don’t care about their fellow castaways. I wonder if the Minnow wouldn’t have gone down if it wasn’t weighed down by all their luggage. In the workplace, or on a desert island, you want people willing to dig in and get to work, not people who expect you to do the work for them.

Ginger: The movie star who was more Kim Kardashian than Marilyn Monroe.

Ginger has nothing but her looks and some credits in B movies. Like the Howells, she never lifts a finger to help. Instead, she tries to get by solely on her looks. As I said before, looks are fine, but you’ve got to have something to back them up. And her looks weren’t all that great to begin with.

Mary-Ann: The farmer’s daughter and all around girl next door

Ah, Mary-Ann, the complete package. Unlike Ginger, her looks aren’t her only asset, but an added bonus. She cooks, she cleans, she sews, and does it all with a smile. I bet she has 100 different ways to serve coconut, so that you never get tired of it. Sure, she has stereotypically domestic skills, but it was the 1960’s. Today, she’d probably also be able to hunt wild boar with nothing but a sharpened stick. You’d certainly want her on the island with you.

Gilligan: The bungling first mate of the USS Minnow.

Most of you are probably saying “No Way!” to having Gilligan working with you. He’s incompetent, not very bright and accident prone. He certainly isn’t the best worker we’ve ever seen. Why would we want him? But I think Gilligan would be a pretty good choice. Sure, there are limits on what he can do, and you probably have to check his work over after he’s finished it. But he’s a good guy with a good soul who genuinely cares about others. He’ll also do whatever you ask of him, and can be fun to have around.

So there you have it – If given the choice, be a Gilligan, not a Skipper, but by all means, even if you have the money, never be one of the Howells.

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