Rendered Fat Content


Egon Schiele: Portrait of Wally (1912)
"Opportunity rarely knocks. It generally slips in unseen …"

Managing—even participating—in any project seems like a process continually wrestling with plausibility, but these efforts at best qualify as processes in name only, only distantly authentic. Certainly, one produces plans and lists of activities, but neither of these end up executing precisely as projected. Stuff happens and participants adapt. They then engage in a sort of self-deception to prevent an overwhelming sense of chaos from overtaking. Many of these self-deceptions amount to post-hoc explanations of how whatever happened improved the presumed process. Others describe how fate or something had apparently taken the effort under its wing to provide unrequested guidance and often even far greater wisdom than the original plans had provided. Most of this explaining occurs preconsciously, the conclusions seeming obvious to anyone watching. The auditors typically expect somewhat more detailed justification for swaying away from original projections, and their insistences encourage the production of some of the greatest fictions ever produced about anything.

Projects, you see, remain in a continual state of Plausabling, taking advantage of a curious human capability to ever more fully justify almost anything.
As strange as this behavior might seem, upon close scrutiny, it makes perfect sense because humans have always been sense-making organisms. We cannot long bear the burden of unexplained occurrences, and many events simply cannot be explained by reasoned argument, so we create little myths. Certainly these stories rarely qualify as straight. They employ crooked logic but they often prove to serve their purpose, which was always to bolster engagement. Who could complain if they found themselves suddenly lucky instead of cursed? The worst possible scenario apparently didn't happen, though initially it might have seemed effectively unavoidable. That missed deadline seemed to become a fortunate event that set up some benefit nobody beforehand anticipated occurring. Then, the cost of the shortfall pales in comparison with the beneficent result. Our pre-conscious Plausabling tends to leave us feeling lucky. Who would complain about good fortune visiting?

Our HeadingHomeward story has featured many experiences of Plausabling. The exterior painting contractor just appeared unbidden in our driveway one Sunday morning. I'd decided to just leave the exterior as it was since it seemed impossible to finish that job before our deadline. I now explain the event as engineered by The Gods, though I understand that it was more likely just happenstance. Still, my Plausabling placed The Gods firmly on our side, and who would I have to become to deny divine intervention? One by one, little unlikely occurrences have significantly contributed to our sense of making more or less continual forward progress in spite of unforeseen challenges. We're writing the story of an epic journey from a rather routine relocating. So much the better for both us and the world. We could have found ourselves engaged in an epic struggle, encountering one damned thing after another, but instead, we find ourselves endlessly blessed with an apparently unshakable series of divine interventions. We deserve no less.

Back when I engaged in my first corporate project, I received some excellent advice from my department's Assistant Vice President. He suggested that one under-appreciated key to success would very likely be my ability to maintain a short memory. I'd need to learn to let bygones pass and to strategically forget prior slights. I should fight like Hell to achieve my goals but quickly acquiesce should they become unreasonable given emerging conditions. I could wallow in 'if only' regrets or just forget about missed opportunities in favor of some refreshing Plausabling stories. What next? What now? I might look for opportunities to make sense of otherwise confusing experiences lest those events leave me essentially senseless, since only meaninglessness could fallow. I learned not to wallow in my shortcomings but to make up better stories to explain what in the heck just happened.

I've tried many times to persuasively explain that project management—indeed, project work—is essentially a mythical activity; essentially so because these little enterprises utterly rely upon continually refreshing stories to sustain themselves. The plans always fall far short of expectations in execution. Task lists, even those thoughtfully composed, tend to erode into meaninglessness as context shifts, and contexts continually shift. Only myth properly expounded holds together these 'processes,' though it might be best to keep this understanding our little secret. What might seem like wisdom might have been an innate human capability kicking in. We can justify anything by Plausabling, capable of turning every shortcoming into another new beginning. Opportunity rarely knocks. It generally slips in unseen and remains unrecognized until something untoward occurs: an apparently damning something, an definite impossibility, or another damned-whatever-you-do dilemma comes into focus. Then an inner Homer might kick in, Plausabling the effort back onto rails again.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver