Audio: Tend Your Gardens of Thought [Time – 7:35, File Size – 7.3 MB]
“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild. But whether cultivated or neglected, it must and will bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein and will continue to produce their kind.”
— James Allen in As a Man Thinketh
Wow! “…whether cultivated or neglected, [the mind] must and will bring forth.” When I consider this quote in the context of my project management, I am reminded of this paradox: The most productive, the most creative people… the ones you really want on your project team… are also the ones who have the greatest potential to take you far astray from your contracted deliverables and your carefully laid plans!
Just “Make It So…?”
Here’s an example: Several years ago I was part of a project team who was creating a multi-media sales training intervention designed to show sales reps how to sell an amazing new technical product. Part of this package was to be a video that was broken into several scenarios, illustrating our role model sales team strategizing, conducting sales calls, and closing sales. The client manager on this project met with the video production team, gave them a brief overview of the video requirements, handed them some marketing and engineering brochures, and said: “Make it so…” sorta like Captain Picard from Star Trek. He figured they were smart, creative people who knew their business, so it was up to them to produce a good finished product.
Well, true to their spirit and their values, the video team went to work, spending several weeks scripting, casting, shooting, and editing their assigned videos. Unfortunately, when the client manager finally saw what they had been up to, he learned they were way off the mark! The role model sales people (the actors, that is) weren’t right for the parts, they modeled inappropriately chummy behavior in some scenes, and they even mispronounced the features, components and operations of the product they were trying to sell.
Take 2: Creativity with Collaborative Boundaries
Needless to say, the video scenarios had to be scrapped and an entirely new collection of videos was started from scratch. This time, we were all instructed to spend time working with the video producers, guiding them through the intracacies of the new product and helping them create the scenarios. We built in the time to review and revise small increments of the videos. They evolved from brief media treatments, to expanded treatments, to several versions of scripts – all of which were reviewed by many people and revised before production. Then, during production, we attended rehearsals and taping to make sure the actors pronounced technical terms correctly, dressed to suit the corporate culture, and otherwise represented the client’s company like the top-quality sales pros we were trying to model. The result: This video was extremely well-received by the client and was rated highly by the sales reps who attended the class. And, as a bonus, the video producers were proud of their work and glad we had helped them create something that was on target.
The point: By helping the video people “tend the gardens of their thoughts” — by shaping their focus, by guiding their creativity to match our project specifications — we came up with a much more successful finished product. Without this guidance… without this effort to connect everyone to a shared vision of the finished product, these folks followed their own unique vision.
So here’s the lesson to be learned: If you give a productive, creative person a blank slate, she will create on it whatever she deems to be most useful, most relevant, or most exciting. So your challenge as project manager is avoid too many blank slates — to harness your team’s energy and creativity and gently guide it in the service of your project.
Reflect on these questions:
- Does everyone on my team share a clear, “high resolution” picture of the project’s finished deliverables?
- Does each team member have a similarly clear picture of their particular contribution and how it will fit into the finished product?
- Have I given people enough space to be creative while, at the same time, providing clear boundaries?
Work with your team in order to:
- Brainstorm early on, to create a “high resolution” and shared vision of the project deliverables and project outcomes. Be as clear and specific as possible. And include in your brainstorming sessions the customer, client, senior management, or anyone else who might want to rethink your deliverables later.
- Make sure that your high resolution vision is clearly articulated and well-documented — and that there are few blanks to be filled in after the project is under way.
- Let each project contributor know where, within the context of this high resolution vision, he is encouraged to use his creativity and “fill in the blanks.”
Project Manager Challenges
- Make sure you have a solid grasp of your project’s high-resolution, shared vision — you gotta see it crisply! This is so you can tell exactly where your team member’s innovations are needed and, conversely, where innovations or departures from the project specifications would not be welcomed.
- Be there when the deliverables are being created. Inspect them frequently, especially when they are still malleable. Praise the good features, the clever and appropriate insights. Gently guide divergent thinkers back to the shared vision.
- Go to PhilosophersNotes and get the full notes and MP3 on on James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh
- Get the audio download of James Allen’s As A Man Thinketh narrated by Charley Steiner from LearnOutLoud.com
- Check out James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh on Amazon