Project Karma: What You Think, Say and Do Matters
Projects are the vehicles for making things different. It is natural to want things to be different than they are.
Things can be better. Progress and improvement arise out of this desire. So may pain and suffering. Choosing the right projects and performing them well make the difference.
Projects are actions to effect change – to make more money; improve people’s lives. They deliver new and modified products, architectural wonders, events, and processes which impact both the environment the project work takes place in and the environment that receives the results. Within those environments people’s lives, the way they think, their values and how they relate with others are changed.
The Law of Cause and Effect -Karma
Every action, whether to make things better or not, creates a ripple effect. The effect may be short lived or last for years, if not lifetimes. It may be felt near or far. Knowing that there is this ripple effect motivates one to be careful about what one does, what one says, and even what one thinks.
This is the Law of Karma or the Law of Cause and Effect. Every action has an effect. Everything is caused by something. Sometimes the effect is very subtle and minor; sometimes near and sometimes far. This is the foundation for process thinking and quality management.
Consider the project of planning a wedding. The way the planning and preparation are carried out influences the relationships among the stakeholders. The over controlling parent can turn-off the bride and groom and the other parents. An over controlling or over emotional bride can change the feelings of the groom and/or her friends and relatives. Even the decision of who gets to sit at which table can reverberate for years to come. One conversation can make or break a relationship.
A project to implement a new process for an operational group can disrupt the organization positively or negatively. It can cause ongoing conflict between management and labor, and either make for better ongoing performance or degrade performance depending on how well the project is executed and how the new process performed and maintained overtime.
A project to lay a pipeline across virgin territory can contribute to the pollution of the environment because of the immediate disruption of the construction project or a decade later when a leak spews oil into the land and water. The project can also result in profits, lower energy costs, and conflict among promoters, resisters, and supporters. There are any number of unforeseeable possibilities.
Decisions and Actions
A decision to ignore or dismiss testing results or concerns raised by project staff can lead to a disaster, as it did in the Challenger explosion, killing the crew, costing millions of dollars and destroying the reputations of NASA management because of their faulty statistical reasoning.
Intentions, biases, values, and beliefs are the drivers of decisions. Decisions drive behavior. The way decisions are made influences relationships and outcomes. For example, being overly aggressive or using underhanded methods to get one’s way can cause distrust and anger that clouds relationships going forward to other negotiations.
Working with Karma
There are a number of strategies to apply this concept of cause and effect to promote optimal performance.
Some people ignore the Law of Karma entirely. They act as if there were no consequences and then are surprised by the results of their behavior. Some of these do, in fact, know about the Law of Karma, others are ignorant of it. Either way, there are consequences.
Some others fall into analysis paralysis. They spend so much time analyzing and worrying about what might happen that they miss the opportunity to act.
Others take a middle path that considers the question from multiple perspectives. They balance their analysis with intuition. They consider the time factor, uncertainty. They realize that there may not be a “perfect” solution.
Take a Beat
This last strategy is one to aspire to. When faced with a decision take a beat.
Relax, pause, breathe and think about what you are going to do. Just reactively diving-in, risks unforeseen consequences. So take a beat. Respond after the due diligence of assessing from multiple perspectives the pros and cons, risks and rewards, ripple effects, alternatives, etc.
Make the duration of the pause and the nature of the decision process right for the situation. Do you have an hour, a day, a month or does the response have to be in the moment. In project work, immediate response is not usually required.
The way a soldier or police officer reacts in a life-threatening situation requires a well-trained reaction. Yet, even in those situations, it is easy to get lost in emotional reactivity. Reactivity does not allow for a step back to think about one’s actions and their consequences. We have seen many instances of inappropriate reactivity leading to unnecessary deaths and ruined lives.
Most project managers have at least a moment to step back and consider the ripple effect of what they do or say. It is only lack of mindful awareness that keeps some from realizing it.
With training in the cultivation of mindful self-awareness there is the possibility of a natural process of letting things unfold. Not in a sloppy, lazy way, but by being in flow so as to allow one’s skills, intelligence, analysis and intuition to emerge in perfect alignment with the needs of the situation.
Short of that, objectively observe what is going on internally and externally to create the platform for what to do next.
In any case, living requires decisions and actions. Actions include the actions of not acting, and of expressing oneself by speaking, writing, or with body language.
Responsiveness means making conscious decisions. Discerning whether they are unbiased or are really justifications or rationalizations after the action has been carried out. When reacting there is no conscious decision making, only the outburst or withdrawal.
No matter whether action stems from a well thought out decision or not, there is the ripple effect.
Picture dropping a stone in a still pond – the effect is ripples radiating out in all directions. Now imagine the stone falling into an already rippling pond into which many stones of different sizes are being continuously dropped in different places. That is more like our world. Complexity and volatility leading to uncertainty.
Sometimes in that kind of pond, the ripples from your stone, your action, are barely visible, sometimes they are operating under the surface to take effect later. Sometimes they don’t much matter. In any case, be mindful enough to remember the Law of Cause and Effect and responsive enough to choose what you do, say and think wisely.