Eclipse Of Venus – 4 (12 Angry Men)

How does in general a group work? Not the detached group, talking through e-mail or other type of non-human communication, but the one who sits together?

12 Angry Men (1960),  is a brilliant movie on understanding the mechanism. For reference to this movie I have to thank both IMDb as well as AFI. It features in both the recommended list of top movies, and of course my vote of thanks goes to the supplier, Barnes and Nobles, to whom I have migrated now for last around 4-5 months after series of very bitter experiences with Amazon and their completely laissez-faire or rather “Don’t care” attitude. That is a very long and bitter chapter, I am not going to go into that, but the Amazon guys must be aware, after all I had to correspond with them for quite some time, without any solution of course. However, it has at least educated me never to have anything to do with it, and that includes both Amazon.in as well as Amazon.com (which I mistakenly thought would be better than the local branch).

B&N has their lacunae, and have confused me, and still do, but thet confusion hasn’t been to my detriment. Several times after placing the order, I got an SMS as well as a mail from my card issuing bank, telling that a part of the order has been cancelled and the money is refunded back into my credit. I was confused, and in the first instant a bit angry too, if you don’t have the stock, aren’t you supposed to keep your website updated and show nil stock? But when I visited the site, it has displayed that the order was ‘Under Process’ and not cancelled.

Further confused I have shot a mail to their complaint cell, and quite soon I got the reply telling that they are equally confused, (due to my mail), since as far as they are concerned, the order is live and in fact they are packing it, and are going to anyway send it to me. They did, and I got it in time too. Then I understood the problem. Since they don’t bill it till it reached the delivery point, the card-man had assumed the order had been voided and has refunded the money. If I am not wrong, within a certain time period of my clearing the payment, the other partner has to confirm and present credentials. At a later stage, when they really dispatched it, they billed (and got the money too, as my monthly card statement displayed). Anyway, all are happy, and I may be a bit happier, knowing that they bill only after they have handed it over to the courier. Next problem would be to know what happens if it is lost in transit, but touch-wood, that stage hasn’t come yet. Hopefully they insure the package, to take care of this. Anyway, enough of the suppliers. Let me come back to the topic.

This movie, 12 Angry Men, is a brilliant study in the group dynamics, and if I am in education, probably it should be a compulsory full semester subject in management education. It is a bit of misnomer, since as far as I could see, there weren’t 12 angry men in it, only eleven. The twelfth man didn’t seem to be angry.

This movie doesn’t have any romantic angle. In fact, I can say it is utterly misogynist. The judge is male, the defendant is male, all the twelve juries are of this same gender as are the bailiff and the guards. The whole movie doesn’t have a single character of fair sex, of any age. Only two women had been referred to, without showing them of course, one of them was a star witness, and the other was one of the juror’s wife, whose existence came into open, when he was asked with whom he has gone to a particular movie. Even among all the credited persons, I could find only one person of fair sex, Faith Elliott (Script Supervisor).

The movie is about a murder case, being tried in court. However it isn’t a courtroom drama a la Perry mason (and had it been, at least Della would be there). The trial isn’t shown, and the court scene too disappears by third minute from start, in which the defendant is shown for a fraction of second,

Presiding judge got a few seconds more of screen time, to ask the angry men (Jury) to retire to their room, discuss among themselves and then give the verdict, guilty of not guilty.

If it is guilty, the defendant sits in chair, if it is not guilty, he walks away, but in either case it has to be 12-0. That’s anyway the rule for capital punishment in most states, so there is no error in the movie as yet. In case of hung verdict, the rules differ, some convert the capital to life imprisonment, some go for retrial with a separate set of jury. Anyway, that is out of syllabus, at least as far as this movie is concerned. Of course there had been a few mentions of retrial with another set of Jury.

The case, as came out during the discussion of the jurors was as follows.

The boy, who was just 18 now, has lost his mother when he was nine. His father was an alcoholic, violent and also a regular gaol-bird. When he was out and at home, he would regularly beat the boy, who after a few punches would run out on the street and come back after quite some time. May be because of these wandering on streets, with similar set of friends, the boy too has adopted the profession of the father. As per records, he had been involved in quite a few misdemeanors, including burglaries and was skilled in the use of knives. However, this was the first murder he had committed.

On the fateful day, at night 20:10, after a few (two) punches of his father landing on him, he has as usual rushed out of the home. From there, he has gone to the neighborhood pawn shop and purchased a knife (at 20:45). The pawnshop owner has told the investigators that it was a rare type of knife, and was the only one of its type in his shop, in fact he had never seen another of this kind.

After buying the knife, the boy walked out of the shop, met a few friends on the way and went with them for some sort of party. After the party was over he came back home at about 23:00 hours. Up to here there is no contradiction and the defendant agreed to all this.

At Night, 00:10, there was another fight between the two. The Old man living in the apartment just below them heard the boy screaming at the top of his voice “I am going to Kill you”. The next moment he heard the thud (of a body falling on floor). He ran to the door and saw the boy rushing out to the street. But that’s not all, there was a star witness, who had seen the boy stabbing his father.

In the apartment across the street, there lived a woman, in mid-forties, who had sleeping disorders (insomniac). On that particular night too she was tossing around in the bed, and watching out of the window, may be counting stars, ships are a bit rarity in metros. She had clearly seen the boy stabbing his father. Of course, there was a bit of obstruction to clear view. Between the two houses there was an El-train track, and at that moment an El-train was passing through. She swore that she had seen the incident happening clearly through the windows of the last two rakes and it has been proved irrefutably by the prosecution as well as experts that that if the El-train was empty and dark, one could clearly see the other side through the windows.

Seeing the man being stabbed, she screamed and immediately called police. Since that was true (there was no witness of the scream, but the telephone call to police was definitely a fact, as was her hysterics on the phone), there is no doubt that she had seen the stabbing. Since she knew the family, at least visually through the window, there is no reason to suppose that she couldn’t recognize the boy.

The police arrived, found the dead body with the knife sticking out on his chest. The shopkeeper confirmed that it was the same one that he had sold to the boy. But the boy was careful, and there was no fingerprint on it. The boy came back at night 3:00 and was arrested.

As per the boy’s version, he went out again at 11:30 for a movie show. After the show was over, at night 3:00, he came back home and was immediately apprehended, and as per the details, in the process, he was thrown down half a flight of stairs too.

He had gone alone to the movie, so there was no one to support his claim. None in the cinema hall could recollect seeing him that night and he couldn’t produce the tickets counterfoils either. With regards to the knife, he claimed that it fell down somewhere on the road through a hole in his pocket.

There was an interrogation at the scene of the crime, or almost. The police brought him to the kitchen (the body was in the other room), to interrogate and for his alibi. The boy couldn’t tell the name of the actors in the movie, and even the name of the movie. Of course, later in the court, he could tell all those things, but that was not strange. In the three months, between that date, and the date of hearing, the defense lawyer could at least make him memorize these small facts.

Even in this much of the story, I can see a lot of loopholes and might wonder why the boy, clearly not guilty, wasn’t defended by the defense lawyer, he could easily have got the boy out. In fact, the Jurors mentioned that he didn’t even properly cross-examine the witnesses. But that weakness in the plot too was removed in due course.

The defense lawyer was young, probably just out of college and this was his first case. He was court appointed, and hence there was no money from the case for him. In addition, he too was sure, by his attitude, of the boy’s guilt. Anyone would be with not one, but two eye-witness accounts. He didn’t want to prolong the boy’s and especially his own misery and wanted all this to be over quickly.

The dilemma in the minds of Jury in any murder case is that if suspect is really a murderer and was acquitted by them, he would most probably commit another, now since he has got the taste of blood, and if he is innocent, and put into chair, obviously, there is no going back from there. So either way there is good chance of there being blood in their conscience.

Though I have outlined the case in detail, but I would like to point out that the story, by itself isn’t very important and I would rather take it as an allegory. It is a watertight case, in support of a proposal (the defendant is guilty and should be sent to chair). All the proofs in support has been brought forward, or corroborated by experts, without even a bit of evidence or struggle in contrary. Those who are supposed to object too are convinced by the merit, and the feeble objections were just since they were supposed to, not because they wanted to. This attitude, and the lack of objections during presentation, could be due to immaturity of the people who should and could have objected, or simply because they are dis-interested and might even have a fruit hanging in front of their nose (say an assistant-ship with the DA), which could be there if they keep quiet. Since I have said that it is a management course, let me take it to that angle.

A board meeting is being held, and the CEO of the company (Public Prosecutor) has brought in a proposal. This proposal has been in detail explained by his management team (various experts, cops etc. who were put on the stand), and it was clearly proved that the measure proposed by him is necessary for the survival. With reference to the court case, it is in the interest of the society/ system’s survival to see that each and every guilty is punished without exception. No one has found a single loophole to contradict it, and even if they have noticed, of which there was no proof, they have kept their mouth shut.

Now the board members are in the boardroom, and the call is to be taken  on whether to accept CEO’s proposal or reject it. If the board members agreed to the CEO, the proposal (Capital Punishment sought by the prosecutor) could be the death-knell for the company, by accepting an atrocious proposal (victimizing innocent), well marketed by the CEO and his team, either by error or deliberately. The company sans this act, might have struggled, but still survived, but if the CEO is wrong, this proposal could almost certainly put its shutters down. On the other hand, if the CEO is right, and the proposal was really as brilliant as projected, rejecting it is almost equally harmful. The company is already struggling, and unless something is done, it couldn’t survive on the borrowed oxygen cylinder for long. The one who are supposed to keep the ship floating, are in fact puncturing its bottom by not siding with CEO. Whether the ship will sink because of accepting the proposal or rejecting it, no one is certain of.

When we form a company governing board for a company that is, or is to be, well-run and with well intention, it should have wide representation. There would of course be the members from all the majority share holders in form of their directors. The management/ promoters would be, or be represented by, the Chairman, CEO and functional directors. With them there would be nominated directors of other major shareholders too. In addition to these, who have a direct stake on the fortunes of the company, there would be a certain number of independent directors, who has no pecuniary interest in the company (that is investigated as well as declared by them).

These independent directors, in some aspects, yield more power than even the CEO, and are from various society of life. Depending upon the field of operation of the company, I have seen the Independent directors who are active in the field of social activity (social activists or environmentalists, may be associated with some NGO- Non-Government Organisations), Accounting and Audit Firms, Finance Firms, Unrelated Business, Advertising and Marketing firms etc. It is an attempt to bring in the diversity in the thinking of the board so that the decision taken are properly weighed and hence the risks associated with hasty, uncooked and individualistic decisions are minimized.

The spectrum of experience and field of activity of these people are to ensure that the companies activities are benign to all its stake holders. It shouldn’t stop at the majority shareholders (represented by CEO and a few other board members), but also look at the aspirations of the myriads of individual and unknown minority stake holders who are much more vulnerable to the change in fortunes of the company. It should also be protective of the interests of society in general who too would be directly or indirectly affected by it.

These people look at different facets of past decisions made, even elsewhere, represented by the current situation of the organisations (the law and order) and its environment (society), and the current ones proposed (the specific case being deliberated) from their point of view and then the balancing act is carried out so that everyone is happy. Here however the 12-0 (or N – 0) majority is not mandatory, a simple majority would suffice. However, usually a significant majority, including from these ‘independent and uninterested’ subset is sought for, in rare cases when unanimity isn’t reached. In fact, it is mandatory by the statute that these independent directors sit together at periodic intervals and give their opinion on the manner the company is functioning.

But one thing is very important for these independent directors to become an asset and not a drag. These are expected to bring the light to the board and not the baggage. They should bring their knowledge due to their exposure and activities in various fields, but not the prejudices that could have accumulated due to this same exposure.

For example, I am in the board of an engineering construction major, and the CEO has brought a proposal to expand in the construction of Nuclear plant or Dams, or Light City rails. If I belong to the social activist groups I will look at the effects on the displaced and ask my fellow members, including the CEO etc, whether their concerns are being met. I would look from my view point, and ensure that the negative effects of past don’t repeat with the company I am associated with. I won’t bring my prejudice of Fukushima or Seven Hills and be rigid in my stand of striking it down. If I am from finance, I will put my bit on the clearances and delays, and whether those aspects had been accounted for in the proposal that had been presented, if all these are done, and were proved to be of my satisfaction, well and good. If not, the team might do a little more home-work and may be later present it with modification. This way I bring my expertise, my knowledge and add value.

But is it how human work? I could reply with an equivocal no. Everywhere we see the oppositions, which are meant to block, not to modify and remove the lacunae. The prejudices, which are one of the most difficult thing to overcome, since they don’t listen to reasoning, are brought to the table. Sometimes my prejudice makes me to support blindly a certain thinking and other times to oppose, equally blindly.

The individual bias and prejudices are part of any group, and each of the members have their individual and unique set. It is in fact much more complex, since the combination and interactions of the prejudices give rise to unique behavior pattern, like yellow and blue becoming green. My opponents only see the green, but they have to be aware that it is not only that, but they have to overcome the yellow and blue too, and that too in friendly atmosphere, belligerency might make my green darker.

The biases and prejudices form over many years, probably some of them might date back to infancy, say result of their parents quarreling over certain issues (or non-issues), it could come by observing their friends, acquaintances or the people in the neighborhood. As we age, our bags become more and more full. In this aspect we are all hoarders, and we rarely discard anything from it. Luckily our bag expands as more and more items are added and we don’t find any need of not collecting a thing that we feel must be collected.

All our discussions and behavior are tempered by this bag weighing down our shoulders. I really don’t think there is an escape from it, the best one can do is to weaken it and see that when an action contradicts my conviction, I should be able to logically convince it, and make it at least go into a doze.

In fact, it is on the rest of the groups too to help fight their own as well as help me fight mine. But it finally would depend on how receptive I, and the others are.

Even when there are only a few who has a thick impenetrable cloak wrapped around them, there is a very good chance that few more who are vulnerable to hardening (not softening) would join them, not necessarily in a common reasoning, but by hardening their stands. “If he isn’t ready to listen to reasoning, why should I?”

Just like an ideal jury should have members from diverse sources of life, social status and profession, an ideal board also should select similarly. With a balanced representation of expertise from various sources and streams of lives, and with personally nothing to gain or lose by the outcome, both are expected to give a balanced opinion. Here I may note that though it may not affect personally, I am leaving the moral part. If one gives a bad or a doubtful decision knowingly, under some pressure, obviously there would be blood on his or her conscience. They could have asked the conscience to shut up and not unnecessarily whimper, if there was some material gain. But in these cases, that being non-existent, the prick of conscience can’t be easily silenced.

With this attempt at representation of various facets, we thus are also bringing in the biases and prejudices of various facets to color the result, and the gain of the variation could be nullified or even reversed by the same variation.

I have brought out the similarity between the company board and a Jury. This similarity will exist wherever any type of committee makes a strategic selection (decision theoretically is a selection, of an alternative between all available and identified ones), and in that selection, the members have nothing personal to gain or lose, at least officially.

It could be a candidate selection board, a policy making committee, an award, say Nobel Committee, or even the jury in the boxing matches of Gymnastics. The only requirement is that

  • the members should be from as diverse area as possible,
  • all should be highly or at least sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject to form an opinion.

In case of company board, it is taken care of, through general awareness as well as special director’s trainings “Know your company”. For Jury too it is not very complex, since the scope that is given to them doesn’t need that much of expertise, and some basic guidelines are hammered into their brain. These and the knowledge of general legal aspects might suffice. But one can’t expect a scientist, even Einstein, who might not even know or bother about what diving is and what is the meaning of the degree of difficulty, to come over and sit in one of the judge’s bench and award marks, to improve the TRP of the event. Similar things do happen… and exactly for the same purpose, TRP, but I am not going to talk about it, nor are the organizers of the event. I, as the public, might not bother or might even welcome it, since I am getting a look at the live luminary, and may even be getting autographs, unless of course the one lost due to bad judgement, in my opinion, is my cousin or daughter or son.

Contd…