I woke up to NPR this morning and listened to an interview with Bobby Knight, the famous college basketball coach. The interview discussed his new book “The Power of Negative Thinking.” To sum it up, Coach Knight said that if you want to win it’s more important to focus on what can go wrong and fix it than to let positive thinking pull you through. Checking out the book preview on Amazon, I picked out this quote:
“As I looked ahead to every game and every season, my first thought was always: What vulnerabilities do we have and what can we do to minimize them, to get around them, to survive them – and give ourselves a better chance to win? In effect, how do you eliminate the wasted energy and unnecessary mistakes to build a cohesive and successful team that can play within its strengths?”
Clearly, Bob Knight is a great risk manager. What I like about his message is that we have to work hard to clearly identify and counteract the risks we face in order to succeed. We can’t just hope for the best. When we do risk management, we should really look for risks and take real actions to mitigate them. We should take specific actions and track specific results to be sure that mitigations are working. Knight is right about that.
But, I’m having a tough time with the “Power of Negative Thinking” thing. (I have to admit here that I’ve only read 20 pages or so that were available on Amazon’s preview). Maybe it’s how he went about being a great risk manager. My impression is that Bob Knight was a pretty demanding and uncompromising manager. In the book, Knight says he had a slogan posted in his locker room saying “This ain’t Burger King. We’ll do it my way.” Can we really be successful in endeavors outside of basketball by following the iron willed approach of a coach to win by relentlessly fixing mistakes? I’m going to ponder this question a bit and see if I learn anything.
In my new role I feel a sense of urgency to get things moving. I think this is common for project managers. We are brought in to make a difference and we are excited about that. But patience is important, too.
I’ve blogged about patience before in June and December. In those posts I advised project managers to be patient so that they build partnerships; and understand and build the capacity and commitment of their team. Then, I was still a crusty consultant advising others on their projects. Shortly after the second post, I accepted a job that requires me to help a very large organization come together in support of organization-wide business and systems transformation. Can I take my own advice? I’m trying.
To reinforce my patience, I looked for updates from my consulting guru, Peter Block, on the Internet. Peter’s books and classes have shaped my approach to what I do. Peter recently posted a video that helped.
Projects are more successful when all the participants – project managers, builders, and clients – find ways to understand and learn from one another. But, that’s not easy. Why is that? Don’t we want to understand and support one another? We probably do. But, our different perspectives can get in the way.
Most people on a project are looking for different things when they look at the project. The project manager is looking to define and manage objectives, scope, schedule, budget, and risks. The other people on the project are looking at what they will be creating or what they will have when the project is completed. They see what interests them. And, they see what they are directed to look for. Science backs up my assertion.
Listening to NPR earlier in the week, I heard a story about the invisible gorilla. It wasn’t about the 900 pound gorilla that comes to most of our project meetings that we all see but don’t talk about. (Or, maybe it was…). It was about a gorilla in plain sight that we don’t see because we are looking for something else.
Dr. Mae Jemison, Principal of the 100 Year Starship project (and former astronaut), was asked by New York Times columnist, Dennis Overbye, if she would go on a lifetime voyage to the stars. She said “Yeah” adding that “It makes a difference who goes with you.” To make the long voyage, she says that “We will bring our culture along with us.”
The 100 Year Starship project (www.100yss.org) was established recently by a group of stellar people to imagine and plan a real trip to the stars. After all, imagining, planning, and completing our trip to the moon triggered research and implementation of television, the Internet, satellite communication, revolutionary medical procedures, and even cultural movements that have changed our lives. Once started, the trip to the moon and back was completed in a matter of days. The 100 Year Starship project is imagining a trip that will take a generation or more. Reading about it, the thing that jumped out at me was not that the project has to find amazing technological breakthroughs; it’s that they have to figure out how people on such a trip can live and work together productively. They have to think about (from www.100yss.org): Continue reading
Dan’s post provides a guiding principle for finding what can go right on your project: you have to ask. Too often projects start off with the scope, schedule, and budget predefined. The charge is “We can do this!” Then we don’t or pretend we did. A project starting this way spends it’s time and energy protecting itself with risk mitigation, change orders, and blame shifting. Starting, as Dan suggests, with “Can we do this?” gets the team to explore the challenge, it’s strengths, and opportunities for needs to be met in a realistic way that improves the organization and its people. Thanks, Dan!
I’m almost three weeks into a new job. This job requires me to build stronger relationships between a complex business environment and its IT providers. No one has had this same job for this business before, so I’m figuring out how to do it. Among many startup considerations, it requires me to consider how much to read vs. how much to act. I’m looking back to old advice and advisors for wisdom.
Early in my career I was lucky enough to participate in a 12 week leadership and management training in the US Air Force called Squadron Officers School. About a thousand junior officers (I was one in 1977) gathered at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama for intensive physical, military, and management training. Among many memories and takeaways I retained was a small foldout card with a few management models we had learned about. One was the read/act model. It illustrated the need to build strengths to both read and act; and to judge and balance the need for reading and action in any new situation. I did a little Google research on Read/Act and found only one website. It gives me the impression that the concept was developed at SOS. Here’s the link. This site is more involved than the core concept I remember. What I remember is that many officers err toward action with bad results, so we needed to build our read skills. If we tend to be readers (like me), then we need to work on balancing reading with acting. It’s situational and intuitive. I’m in a new situation. Continue reading
“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream…” C.S. Lewis
A constant theme in my work life has been to redefine myself every 4 years or so. I’m not sure why it happens, but it’s always worked out well. Maybe it’s why I like project management and consulting. This work is about redefining things.
Last week I started a new job. I’m not an independent consultant anymore. Now, I’m an employee of the State of Washington. Again. I spent the first 20 years of my career in the public sector serving in the Air Force and working for Washington State. Those were good years, but I wanted to see more of the working world. I wanted to know if people in the private sector worked smarter, harder, or more productively. After 18 years being part of private companies and owning one, it’s apparent to me that people are the same everywhere. Everyone is willing to work hard for something and others that they believe in. Continue reading
I often say that imagining perfect outcomes is a useful step in defining project scope. I ran across two things this week that say this message is misguided. I still think I’m right. Let’s work through it.
If you haven’t seen a post from me on imagining perfect outcomes, here’s the idea. We often miss opportunities to achieve benefits on a project because we focus on controlling scope and risk. At the start of a project, I want to be sure we imagine perfect outcomes in terms of getting what we want; and getting it in a way that helps the organization and its people grow. These opportunities should be included in our scope. I think using the word “perfect” helps make this happen.
Here are the two things I ran across this week:
This post is a holiday gift to all of you who have read my blog during 2012, its first year. The blog has been a gift to me. I’ve been able to sort out what’s important, what works for me, what I want to do next, and share it with you. Some of you even find it helpful. That’s the best part. I will keep blogging. Please keep reading, commenting, and sharing this with others who could use it.
I saw this story on the news this week. A wonderful thing happened when a teacher asked his students:
“What would you do if you couldn’t fail?”
This struck home for me. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I ask you to explore perfect outcomes to your projects. Too often we are afraid to ask “What would the outcomes be if this project went perfectly?” We want to control scope and risk. But, limiting our options before we consider perfect outcomes limits our opportunities. Looking for perfect outcomes and opportunities is “the other side of risk.” Of course, we have to balance our dreams with our capabilities as we take each step forward. But, as this story points out, when we envision an opportunity and our dreams are clear, our capabilities can grow to meet them. Click the picture above for the newspaper story, and the link below for the video on King5 TV.
Please enjoy this story and have a wonderful holiday.
Thanks for reading and warm wishes.
The picture is by Jennifer Buchanan from the article in The Herald.
I encourage project managers to seek perfect outcomes before narrowing the scope of their project. This helps find what can go right on a project.
I love it when Dan Rockwell backs me up (even inadvertently). Check out today’s Leadership Freak post:
“8 Ways to Choose Wide Over Narrow”
He starts with:
4 perils of narrow:
- Shuts down rather than turns on.
- Closes off rather than opens up.
- Rejects rather than explores.
- Pulls back rather than reaches out.
I think this post reinforces my thoughts about finding what can go right by looking for opportunities for perfect outcomes and journeys. So, don’t be afraid to go wide. Enjoy. Thanks, Dan. Here’s the link to Dan’s post:
Thanks for reading.