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The Heisenberg Rules: What HR Can Learn from Breaking Bad (#2 - Affiliation Matters)

Capitalist Note - I finally got around to binge-watching the former AMC hit Breaking Bad on Netflix, which follows high school chemistry teacher Walter White's journey through a lung cancer diagnosis and his subsequent turn to becoming a world-class meth producer.  This series (The Heisenberg Rules) represents what I was reminded of as a HR leader by Breaking Bad.  If you haven't seen the series, you can view a synopsis by clicking here. Spoilers abound in this series.

Rule #2 in the Heisenberg Rules is AFFILIATION MATTERS:

One of the best things about Breaking Bad is the time it takes to develop the primary characters Pinkman in the series.  In my last post in this series, we talked about the emasculation of Walter White. Would he have turned into the monster he became if those around him could/would have acknowledged his high performance?  We'll never know.

Today we move away from Walter White and take a look at my favorite character in the series - Jessie Pinkman.  Here's a description of Jessie: 

Jesse Bruce Pinkman is the deuteragonist of Breaking Bad. He is the former partner of Walter White in the methamphetamine drug trade. Jesse was a small-time methamphetamine user, manufacturer, and dealer. He was also an inattentive student in Walter White's chemistry class, leading to his dropping out. In his mid-20s, Jesse became Walt's business partner in the meth trade. Before his partnership with Walt, he, operating under the pseudonym "Cap'n Cook", added a little Chili Powder to make his methamphetamine stand out in the market.

Walt insisted on making a pure product, however, and thus eschewed the chili powder altogether, patronizingly teaching Jesse how to make "proper" meth. Walt often treated Jesse like a foolish son in constant need of stern correction. Jesse's own family kicked him out because of his drug use. Despite the friction between them, he and Walt have a deep bond of loyalty. Like Walt, Jesse is horrified by the brutality at the higher levels of the drug trade, but does what he thinks is necessary. He wrestles with feelings of guilt about the deaths, all drug-related, of people he's been associated with, especially his girlfriend Jane Margolis. He often attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings to help deal with these feelings.

Jessie's my favorite character because he actually struggles to cope with all the things he sees in the drug trade.  Still, he's a simple kid making a load of cash with few other options available to him professionally.  

Walter White and Jessie are "partners" only in finance.  As the subject-matter expert, Walter has all the power in the relationship.  The green shading above accurately outlines how Walter patronizes Jessie throughout the series, only appealing to him as an equal when there's a murder to be completed to ensure their safety. 

As a result of that treatment, Jessie is what I call, "gettable" for anyone who wants to take the time to drive a wedge between him and Walter.  

Jessie knows that Walter doesn't consider him a true partner.  That means people willing to treat him better than Walter have a chance to turn him to their side. That ultimately happens when Gus, a drug load who Jessie and Walter work for, instructs his henchmen to take Jessie out of the meth lab to run various organized crime errands with them. They even go to the trouble of setting up a fake robbery that Jessie can save others from, which results in praise, deeper connection and - you guessed it - Walter going crazy that their bosses have Jessie doing work other than being his patronized assistant.

When Walter displays his paranoia to Jessie about the new relationship he can't control, it pushes Jessie to trust his new friends more, not less.

Of course, they're all criminals, so what's the point?

The point is that in any organization, AFFILIATION MATTERS. 

Walter's the best at what he does, but Jessie is treated as manual labor, not a partner.  When the drug lords involved need to make Walter feel unstable and at-risk, all they have to do is show Jessie Pinkman the love he doesn't get from Walter:

--come work with us.

--come hang with us.

--seems like you're doing well - nice work!

It's the same blueprint whether you're developing software, running a restaurant, or yes - cooking Crystal Meth.

If you're treating someone valuable on your team like a commodity, just know this - if there's a market for their skills, all it takes is for someone who needs them (or needs to hurt you) to show them love, affiliation and respect.

Once that happens, they're probably gone.  Or as Jessie Pinkman would say, "YO, MANAGING PEOPLE 101, B***H".

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