Audio: Change Your Mind [Time – 6:43, File Size – 6.3 MB]
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson in Self-Reliance
Here is something paradoxical about projects: On the one hand, we labor mightily to create well-thought-out project plans and stick to them. On the other hand, as our deliverables unfold from preliminary concept to detailed design to prototype and beyond, we inevitably make changes as we learn that our original plans didn’t account for this or that factor that we now have discovered is important.
Still, our plans haunt us. We sometimes feel guilty when we deviate from them. Or worse, we stubbornly ignore that nagging new bit of information or overlooked detail that we know in our hearts is going to come back to haunt us later.
Here’s a painful example: Quite early in my project management career (when I was a bit more stubborn than I am these days) I was managing a team of instructional designers and media developers who were creating a whole boatload of training in support of a client’s new flagship product. The object of the game was to get the training finished in time to support the big product rollout. The overall training program was made up of a many tightly integrated pieces… and we knew that any substantial changes to content in one part of the training would ripple through the other components. Now, I was eager to prove to my client that we absolutely wouldn’t miss any deadlines. So when one of my instructional designers informed me of a fairly serious, last-minute change the engineers had made to the product – one that would mean we also had to change the content of our training – I decided to ignore it. I’m ashamed to say that I pretended (… even convinced myself and the instructional designer who knew better) that this change was no big deal. Unfortunately, when it came time to test our training before making the final revisions, the people who were our test subjects became very confused by the discrepancy between the way the new product was working and the way it was described in our training! Of course they gave us a bad review… and we were forced to take the time to fix our training by making the changes we should have made in the first place! Thanks to heroic efforts on the part of my designers and some extra long days, we were still able to meet our deadline as promised. However, I had damaged my reputation a little with this client by my stubborn refusal to accept the need for making these changes earlier.
So here’s the deal: When you learn something new… something that truly impinges on a structure or a design or a plan that you thought you had all figured out… it’s okay (even mandatory!) that you change your mind.
Reflect on these questions:
- Is there some new bit of information that you are trying to ignore because acknowledging it would mean we’d have to change the project deliverables, work process, budget, or schedule?
- Is there something about this project that you know in your heart should be changed… but you are hoping will simply go away?
- Is there someone who is annoying you by repeatedly suggesting you change your mind about something. (Do you secretly fear that maybe this person is right?)
Ask your team:
- Are we stubbornly adhering to any concepts, specifications, methods, or processes that are going to end up “biting us in the butt?”
- What needs to be changed – right now – to make this project run better or achieve better results?
Project Manager Challenges
- Have the courage to hear that inner voice that’s warning you that you are going down the wrong path. It may not be all that loud, but it has something important it’s trying to tell you! So you need to listen to it early, honor it, and take the action it’s calling you to take.
- Make the changes that you and your team uncover as you consider the Reflections and Challenges presented earlier.
- Believe this (because it’s true!): When you heart is telling you that you should make a change and you ignore it or stubbornly refuse… it’s almost certain that things will only get worse!
- So: Go ahead… learn… grow… and change your mind when you know you should!
- Go to PhilosophersNotes and get the full notes and MP3 on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- Get the Essential Emerson CD, narrated by Archibald Macleish, from LearnOutLoud.com.
- Check out The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Amazon
Standard Book Version: