Rendered Fat Content


Ohara Koson: Hunting for Insects (1900-10)
"All progress seems to come from FallingsForward."

Years ago, a client asked me to review a project management course book he'd hired a BIG three consultant to create for his firm. The manual began by recounting many "failed" projects, adopting a backdoor don't-be strategy for teaching its subject. I found this approach odd, especially since the "failed" projects had all also been widely recognized as wild successes. The Sidney Opera House was mentioned, a notoriously failed scope and budget containment process that produced perhaps the world's most beautiful building, which was quite a trade-off. Would the world long remember the cost overage or might it move on to enjoy the remarkable fruits of its curious labor? And so the book continued.

I mention this experience because Our Grand Refurbishment, largely a blessed endeavor, has started experiencing setbacks.
Our pathways have been narrowing, so what might have deflected progress when we started, merely redirected attention toward another parallel path. We've exhausted most parallel alternatives and so, days from completion, we've started experiencing our first tastes of disappointment on the whole danged project. Of course every effort gets born with a fixed amount of disappointment. The general rule of thumb insists that all that disappointment must somehow be dispersed out into the universe before the project can be called done. One can hoard that disappointment until the end where it might blow a whole in the ship's hull and sink the sucker within sight of its destination or, more wisely, spoon out that stuff a little at a time such that one hardly notices its influence. Our early and abiding good fortune has left us overstocked with discouragement just when we might be spooling up to celebrate a great accomplishment. Instead, we might be fixing to steal disappointment from the jaws of victory, like The Sidney Opera House's cost accountancy.

The Muse was assigned to perform a retrospective on a huge program her lab recently delivered. Typical of any huge effort, the blind men deeply disagreed on the nature of their elephant, with some insisting that they'd experienced a success and others refusing to discuss their involvement in the worst professional experience of their careers. The Muse discovered that their effort had been a raging success, with perhaps a tad too much emphasis upon the raging part. They were blazing trail while judging their performance as if they were cruising blacktop, with far more bumps and setbacks than naively anticipated. Truth told, like The Sidney Opera House project, their program had no clue that they had no clue how to do what they'd set out to do and somehow managed to accomplish something genuinely groundbreaking which could be leveraged into some authentic learning which might translate into a smoother next performance, though the next performance and the ones following might also measure progress by counting setbacks and FallingsForward. That's how significance gets built.

When I told that client who'd asked me to review their coursework what The Muse and I had managed to accomplish in a few short days, he said that he didn't believe us. I believed him when he said it. He dismissed us and, later, the executive that had hired us, before setting out to teach everyone working on projects there what not to do to succeed. That avoidance strategy could not have possibly worked, however much that executive believed it could work. The important piece of this story lies in what he didn't believe. He didn't believe that giving people permission to accept how things are would help anything become any different, when, as near as I can tell, it's the only thing that can. I still begin believing that I might somehow sidestep the setbacks only to eventually, thankfully, step into the middle of some. It's what I do then that might determine whether I'll remember This Grand Refurbish as an ennobling success or a humiliating failure. My choice. All progress seems to come from FallingsForward.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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