He said, “Live to See Another Day”

Sometimes we are shielded from the deepest, most profound lessons we've learned - things that give us wisdom. But the things of wisdom are the things of life!

In the project management field, we typically apply a lot of principles and tools that enable us to deliver a project on time, within budget, and at the level of quality expected.

But doesn't that sometimes frame our world too restrictively? Where is there room in that for some good old-fashioned achievement?

I remember an old tennis pro who wisely said, "Live to See Another Day". What he meant with that statement was to never give up on a point, to always just try to stay alive by keeping the ball in, and that simply surviving a hit can often win you the point in the end.

I think there is a lot of wisdom in that statement...and that it's not dragged down by knowledge!

knowledge versus wisdom

Here are a few of the things that seemingly get lost in this world of controlled inputs, conditions, and outputs.

  1. A "can do" attitude that enables the team to reach beyond their known capabilities.
  2. A "winning" attitude that enables the team to accomplish ore than the competition - even when the odds are against you.
  3. An over-achievement - where the team delivers something better than ever imagined.
  4. Delivering the project early!
  5. Completing the project under budget.

In short, it can sometimes seem that by applying project management methodologies, we box ourselves in to a more mediocre performance, where at best we can celebrate have achieved exactly what we said we would achieve. We demonstrate knowledge...and not wisdom.

I am not saying it's wrong to "achieve exactly what we say we will achieve"! However, I am saying that can sometimes run the risk of limiting ourselves to lesser achievements.

One of the concepts that can limit us, for example, is that of "gold plating". Gold plating says that once we deliver the product of the project according to specifications we should stop - and that any tweaking or "polishing" of the project beyond that is delivering too much - or gold plating.

The concept taken by itself is good. We can certainly declare success when we give someone what they've asked for. But is there really anything wrong with giving someone a little extra? It could lead to future projects, improve relationships, and demonstrate increased capabilities. It can build leaders. It can motivate and gel teams.

On the other hand, there is the risk that we set a bad precedent - that we over-deliver - to the point where over-delivery is expected, and therefore no long over-delivery! It's like lowering the par on a hole on the golf course.

This is a tricky question, but one that we have to grapple with on projects. We need to balance the need and desire for achievement with the need and desire for controllability. These are all good things, but achieving them can be tricky.

In the end, we want to be more than "functionaries". We want there to be some art in what we are doing. We want to accomplish something larger than ourselves, and something that leaves us and some part of the world around us different and better than before. We need to exercise balance and good judgment to allow that to happen.

One of the ways we can balance these things is to pay attention to form and function on our projects. The function part is that by which we judge our success - and frame both the lower and upper limits of the product of our project. the form is "how" we achieve it - perhaps the auxiliary accomplishments of the project, like giving someone experience in something, building stronger relationships, and growing leaders.

In the end, we need to know when to use our head...and when to use our gut. We always need to keep our knowledge and competence in perspective, so that it does not get in the way of our wisdom. We have to exercise control...but also need to try and stretch beyond our abilities, but remember to "Live to See Another Day". This is wisdom from experience and worth its weight in gold.

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