There’s a scene in Satyajit Ray’s vastly under-appreciated classic “Pratidwandi” (the Adversary) where the protagonist, Siddhartha is sitting in front of an interview board. Siddhartha has had to quit his medical studies because of a death in the family and desperately needs the job. He is then asked by the suited and booted men on the other side of the table:
“What do you think has been the most significant human achievement in the last few years?”
Now Siddhartha knows the answer he is “supposed to give”—which is “the moon landing” (The movie was released in the early 70s). Yet being honest and also somewhat of an idealist , he gives an answer that not only reflects his own beliefs (and individuality) but is also logically more nuanced than the “stock answer”.
Siddhartha considers the Vietnam War to be the greatest human achievement of the last few years because given the advances in science and technology, the moon landing was inevitable—the only suspense being whether it would this year or the next. However, the fact that a group of uneducated, disorganized peasants could keep at bay one of the World’s superpowers by dint of their determination was in itself a far greater “human achievement” because it was unexpected and unprecedented.
Siddhartha does not get the job. The bosses suspect him to be a communist despite the fact that it does not take a communist to appreciate Siddhartha’s line of reasoning. Rather than interpreting his answer to be the mark of an intelligent, original and essentially honest man, the bosses took it as “How dare this man not give us the standard answer !”
This is something that has never ceased to amaze me. HR people and administrators claim to covet people who think differently (or “out of the box” whatever that means) and claim to value people who come across as honest and innovative and yet time and again I find that during interviews/job applications/statement of purpose evaluations, its always the hackneyed, done-to-death, predictable answers that are the winners.