Playing to Your Strengths

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

—Albert Einstein

In the movie Cast Away, actor Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a fictional FedEx employee marooned on a deserted island for four years after the delivery plane on which he has hitched a ride plummets into the ocean.1 He survives armed with nothing but his wits, what he can scrounge on the island, and the contents of several FedEx packages that float ashore after the crash. If you ask most people what the film is about, they will typically mention mankind's heroic struggle to survive or—propelled as Noland is by the desire to reunite with his fiancée—the power of love to overcome all obstacles. There were two events in the film, however, that sent me a different message. These events so intrigued me that I e-mailed the film's screenwriter, William Broyles Jr., to ask him what they meant.

The first thing that struck me was the friendship Noland forms with a half-inflated soccer ball rescued from the crash, which he names “Wilson,” after the ball's manufacturer. Broyles told me that to research the film, he spent time alone on a beach by the Sea of Cortez. During his solitude, he found a volleyball washed up on the shore. “So much are we a social animal,” Broyles wrote me, “so much do we need the spiritual connection to another human being, that I was endowing a volleyball with human characteristics, just because it was so hard to be alone.”2

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