7 Business Lessons from Get Smart and Agent 86

The TV show Get Smart was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry and ran for five seasons: 1965 to 1970. (A not-so-successful Get Smart movie, with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, came out in 2008.) The premise of the comedy show involved the conflict between CONTROL (a secret security agency staffed by incompetents) and KAOS (an enemy agency, staffed by other idiots and described as “an international organization of evil”). Neither CONTROL nor KAOS was an acronym.

CONTROL is managed by “Chief” (Edward Platt) and its principals are Agents #86 (Maxwell Smart, Don Adams) and #99 (Barbara Feldon). In Season 4, at their wedding, 99 changes her name to “Mrs. Maxwell Smart.” She appears to have no name of her own; her mother is “my mother.”

In January 2013, CIO Magazine published 7 Must-Have Project Management Skills for IT Pros enumerating the lessons I highlight below. Sure, the skills make sense. But it’s more fun to look at Get Smart! to show us how they work… in the hands of our favorite spies, anyway.

And both Max and his Chief are such superb counter-examples.

Be highly organized and a good multi-tasker.

In “Viva Smart” (aired 23 September 1967), General Pajarito, the new dictator of San Saludos, has imprisoned ex-president Don Carlos. CONTROL sends Max and 99 to restore Don Carlos to power and rescue his beautiful daughter from having to marry the general. Max and 99 disguise themselves as a flamenco dance team, Conchita and Conchata. Naturally, neither Max nor 99 can speak Spanish; Max can’t dance; and Max brought the wrong “emergency kit.’ Joey Bishop, as a guard, helps them escape.

Your business lesson: Could you pose as half of a flamenco duo in Central America with no terpsichorean talent and speaking English? Max can!

Take charge and know how to lead.

In “The Little Black Book” (a two-part episode, which originally aired 27 January and 3 February 1968), Max’s old army buddy Sid (Don Rickles) arrives in town unexpectedly and wants to go out on the town and find women. He uses what he thinks is Max’s “little black book” to arrange a double date.

Unfortunately, it’s not a “little black book;” it’s a KAOS code book which was left at Max’s apartment. When the dates show up, the girls are agents working for The Maestro, an obsessive KAOS assassin. Max captures the girls, but Sid refuses to believe that Max is a spy. He knocks him out and releases the girls, giving them the book. In order to regain the book, Max takes Sid to the office, introducing him to 99 and the Chief. Max and Sid decide to go and battle the Maestro, but get arrested for killing three KAOS agents. CONTROL gets Max out, but the only way to get Sid out of jail is for him to become a temporary CONTROL agent. They end up trapped in the Maestro’s lair, facing the cannon from Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” Luckily, the Maestro is destroyed by his own cannon.

Your business lesson: Don’t rely on your army pal to accept your guidance just on your say-so.

Be an effective communicator.

In “The Day Smart turned Chicken” (aired 6 November 1965), a dying cowboy arrives at Max’s apartment in order to reveal a plot to poison the Morovian Ambassador at a costume party that night.

Max calls the Chief, but when help arrives, the dead cowboy has vanished and there’s no proof of his ever having existed. Max dresses as a giant chicken and goes to the costume ball at the embassy in order to shield the ambassador, only to discover that it’s not a costume party and there’s no poison in the ambassador’s drink. It’s all a KAOS plot to convince everyone that Max is crazy and thereby discredit his testimony in an upcoming court case.

Your business lesson: Look at people’s motivation. Or just don’t believe everything a dying cowboy tells you.

Know how and when to negotiate.

In “The Reluctant Redhead” (aired 6 April 1968), CONTROL wants to obtain the Krispin papers: lists of KAOS informers and agents that are owned by Kinsey Krispin (played by Cesar Romero).


Krispin will only exchange the files for his missing wife Amanda. CONTROL can’t locate Amanda, but they do find a look-alike in children’s book author Mimsi Sage. Max is assigned to transform mousy Mimsi into wild and crazy Amanda. CONTROL then trades her for the papers, only to find that Mimsi actually is Amanda, who merely masqueraded as Mimsi in order to acquire the papers for herself.

Your business lesson: Don’t try to pass off real money as counterfeit.

Be detail-oriented.

In “The Wax Max” (a parody of House of Wax, aired 24 February 1968), while attempting to show off for 99 at a shooting gallery, Max complains that his poor shooting is caused by a defective gun. He then quotes Genghis Khan as saying, “a warped barrel is a fool’s frustration,” unaware that this is a KAOS code phrase.

Believing Max to be a KAOS agent, the carny worker gives Max a plutonium-carrying kewpie doll, despite the fact that Max wants a lace pillow that says “mother.” Max and 99 then enter the Tunnel of Love, though Max insists on separate boats because they’re “just friends.” They leave the tunnel to find the park devoid of patrons but filled with KAOS assassins. KAOS is desperate to recover the doll because it contains the weekly plutonium drop. Max and 99 are captured in the Chamber of Horrors, where Waxman attempts to behead them and turn them into wax dummies. He fails in a singularly unsatisfying ending.

Your business lesson: Clarify communication with your team and allies. Don’t assume that the people you work with know your background and plans.

Recognize and solve problems quickly.

“Mr. Big,” the black and white pilot episode (aired 18 September 1965), introduces Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 of CONTROL.

KAOS’s Mr. Big has stolen Professor Dante’s Inthermo heat ray. KAOS intends to use it to destroy the Statue of Liberty unless the U.S. pays $100 million. Max and Fang, his canine assistant, join forces with 99 to track down Mr. Big. They first go to a novelty company where they discover Mr. Big’s hideout on a fake garbage scow (because no seagulls are around the fake garbage). Max, Fang, and 99 invade the fake scow and defeat Mr. Big’s plot.

Your business lesson: Look for the things that aren’t there.

Possess the necessary technical skills.

In “The King Lives” (aired 6 January 1968), a parody of The Prisoner of Zenda, Max travels to Coronia to protect its King from the King’s evil half-brother Basil (apparently, evil half-brothers are invariably named Basil).

Except for wearing a moustache, the King is an exact double of Max. When Basil’s henchmen shoot at the king, Max takes his place to prevent Basil from ascending to the throne. Unfortunately, Basil discovers the impersonation and kidnaps 99, forcing Max into a swordfight to save the fair damsel. Skills at disguise, detecting the secret passageway, and epee are essential to 86.

Your business lesson: All projects have individual challenges, sometimes unique barriers. If you and your staff have the goal in mind, like CONTROL, you can complete your projects in time, (and perhaps not over budget).














Photo Credit © SliceofSciFi

Peter Salus

Dr. Peter H. Salus has been in the computing and networking community for over 30 years. Prior to that, he spent two decades in academia in the US and Canada. He is the author, co-author, or editor of over a dozen books and over 100 articles and reviews. Among his books are A Quarter Century of UNIX, and Casting the Net.

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