A Systems Approach to Crisis Preparedness and Organizational Resilience

Home | Topic Index | Course Info | Student websites | Organizations | Class Sessions | Discussion | Site Map | Video | Quotes | Links 

Thirteen Days

Organizational Dynamics Open Movie Night feature film

Wednesday, March 6: 6:00pm

440 Market Street, Suite 100, Classroom C

*Open to all OD students and guests – please register by  writing to dynamics@sas.upenn.edu or calling the OD office (215) 898 6967


“The 1962 Cuban missile crisis was the closest we've come to a nuclear world war. Nikita Khrushchev installed Soviet missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from Florida and within striking distance of 80 million Americans. Kennedy told him to remove them, or else. As Soviet ships with more missiles moved toward Cuba, a U.S. naval blockade was set up to stop them. The world waited. At the University of Illinois, I remember classes being suspended or ignored as we crowded around TV sets and the ships drew closer in the Atlantic. There was a real possibility that nuclear bombs might fall in the next hour. And then Walter Cronkite had the good news: The Soviets had turned back. Secretary of State Dean Rusk famously said, "We went eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked."

Roger Ebert, in his review of Thirteen Days, Jan 2001


Thirteen Days presents a vivid illustration of crisis; even though we know the outcome, you can feel the tension of the potentially disastrous situation as the urgency, uncertainties, and intense pressures unfold.

The film is based on actual events, well documented by research (e.g., Allison 1969) and central figures (e.g., Kennedy 1968). Where transcripts were available, protagonists’ actual words are used.[i]

The film can be used to illuminate many core concepts covered in DYN 672, Crisis Preparedness and Organizational Resilience:

How a crisis forms and foments, and some key elements of crisis, in particular:

·         what elements add to or alleviate tension 

·         what elements add to or alleviate margin for error 

·         the role and strategy of time, timing and path dependence

·         the dynamics underlying and pressuring a crisis situation

Elements of resilience – what enabled the protagonists to deftly cope with an unforeseen development of potential Armageddon consequence?

The film can also be used to illuminate many general core concepts of organizational dynamics, in particular organizational decision-making:

A country, company or organization is generally accepted as a single entity. Economists model them as rational actors pursuing optimal ends, and model decisions as discreet events with an optimal solution. People far removed from power often assume an all-powerful CEO or President. More often than not, however, official leaders are severely constrained by internal factions and often the most important – and vicious battles are fought within an organization or government, rather than against any external adversary. The film vividly illustrates the restraints and forces weighing upon both the Kennedys and their Soviet counterparts, and thus illustrates a political perspective on power (Freeman 1999, March 1994, Pettigrew 1973, Pfeffer 1992) often left unconsidered, though it may well yield the most valuable insights about an organization and organizational processes -- in short, that organizational decisions are not rational, linear analysis of the evidence but rather the complex outcome of a series of struggles, influence attempts, power plays, negotiations, and manipulations … battles within a larger war.

Finally, Thirteen Days shines a light on that war -- the war within and for America. In the civics book version of America, the US military stands above politics, and even those who readily criticize the harsher features of capitalism and corporations rarely criticize the military directly or hint at their direct involvement in politics. This film, however, indicates the reality of a sharply politicized Joint Chiefs of Staff unimplacably opposed to accommodation, openly disdainful, and clearly accustomed and expectant of getting their way.


Following the movie will be a brief discussion. Possible topics include:

·      What do we learn about the origins and elements of crisis from this movie?

·      What skills allowed the players to deal with the unexpected and to avert annihilation?

·      How can we analyze this decision using various perspectives on organizations?

·      What does the film illustrate about power in America (and to a lesser degree, the Soviet Union)? In the larger context of the cold war: Who exactly won and lost this battle? And what exactly was this war?


6:00 Food, socializing, informal discussion  

6:15 Introduction – crisis, resilience and organizational dynamics in Thirteen Days

6:30 – 8:55 Thirteen Days (Film runs 2 hours 25 minutes)

9:05 – 9:30 Discussion


About the film

·      http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20010112/REVIEWS/101120304/1023

·      Thirteen Days (2000) - Imdb

·      http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/thirteen-days-20001218

·      http://www.villagevoice.com/2000-12-12/film/stone-cold-warriors/1/

Background on the Cuban Missile Crisis:

Allison, G. T. (1969). Conceptual models and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The American Political Science Review, 63(3), 689-718.

Kennedy, R. F. (1968). Thirteen days: The Cuban Missile Crisis October 1962. London: Macmillan.

Organizational Decision Making

Freeman, S. F. (1999). Perspectives for understanding organizations. Management Insights, INCAE. 3.

March, J. G. (1994). A primer on decision making. New York, Free Press.

Pettigrew, A. M. (1973). The politics of organizational decisionmaking. London: Tavistock.

Pfeffer, J. (1992). Managing with power: Politics and influence in organization. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

More on Film as a Teaching Resource

Champoux,J. E. (1999). Film as a teaching resource. Journal of Management Inquiry, 8(2), 206-217.

Champoux, J. E. (2001). Management: Using film to visualize principles and practices. New York: South-Western College Publishing., http://www.swlearning.com/management/champoux/film/film_mgmt.html

Ferris, William P., and Russell Fanelli. "Management: Using Film to Visualize Principles and Practices./Organizational Behavior: Using Film to Visualize Principles and Practices." Academy of Management Learning & Education 1.1 (2002): 126-127.

Smith, Gerald W. "Using feature films as the primary instructional medium to teach organizational behavior." Journal of Management Education 33.4 (2009): 462-489

[i] Obvious artistic license is used only in expanding the role of long-time Kennedy friend and current aide Kenny O'Donnell (probably to permit a “fly-on-the-wall” perspective, reference to prior events and to simplify the cast by combining several roles into a single character).


Topics All  |  Crisis Topics  | Global Crises  |  Resilience Topics  | Resilience Tools | linkedin discussion group

Home  |  Author Index  |  Course Info  | Class Sessions  |  Field Trips  |  Organizations  |  Videos  |  Links  |  Quotes

Date Page Created: Mar 3, 2013 Last Page Update: Apr 16, 2013