A seminar participant said: "Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes." So, how many of you are at work -- right now -- on "mediocre successes"? At work on projects that won't be recalled, let alone recalled with fondness and glee, a year from now?
We don't study professional service firms. (Mistake.) And we don't study WOW Projects. (Worse mistake.) There is, of course, a project management literature. But it's awful. Or, at least, misleading. It focuses almost exclusively on the details of planning and tracking progress and totally ignores the important stuff like: Is it cool? Is it beautiful? Will it make a difference? My No.1 epithet: "On time . . . on budget . . . who cares?" I.e., does it matter? Will you be bragging about it two--or ten--years from now? Is it a WOW project?
So, then: Step #1 . . .the organization . . .the professional service firm/PSF 1.0. Step 2 . . .the individual . . .the pursuit of distinction/Brand You. And: Step #3 . . . the work itself . . . the memorable project/WOW Projects.
The Project50 is a simple and handy guide that provides 50 easy steps to help the modern businessperson choose the right project, find the right team, develop strategies for success, and ultimately know when it's time to move on.
See also the other 50List titles in the Reinventing Work series by Tom Peters -- The Brand You50 and The Professional Service Firm50 -- for additional information on how to make an impact in the professional world.
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STEP NO. 1 TO WOW PROJECT POWER: AWARENESS!
Winston Churchill said that appetite was the most important thing about education. Leadership guru Warren Bennis says he wants to be remembered as "curious to the end." David Ogilvy contends that the greatest ad copywriters are marked by an insatiable curiosity "about every subject under the sun."
So, too, great project reframers!
The good news: Curiosity can (more or less) be trained/learned. My best friend -- my wife, actually -- is one of a number of "notebook freaks" I know. When she's on a product-sourcing trip for her home-furnishings business, for instance, she'll fill 40 pages of a notebook (she copied this habit from her adored grandfather). There will be notes . . . and sketches . . . and pasted-in articles and ads from newspapers or magazines. Likewise, my friend and business guru Karl Weick carries a packet of 3 x 5-inch cards in his inside sport coat pocket: I've never seen him go more than 20 minutes -- literally! -- without jotting down some observation or other. Another pal writes on matchbook covers, cocktail napkins -- and stuffs the little scraps into his left (always left!) pocket; he cleans out the pocket, he reports, every few days . . . and types the notes, with some elaboration, into an ongoing computer file.
It boils down to studenthood-in-perpetuity/curiosity-in-perpetuity/applied-fanatic restlessness. That is, a belief that life is . . . ONE BIG LEARNING EXPERIENCE. Something mysterious happens to a curious, fully engaged mind -- and it happens, as often as not, subconsciously. Strange little sparks are set off, connections made, insights triggered. The result: an exponentially increased ability to tune up/reinvent/WOW-ize today's project at work!
Milliken and Co. chairman Roger Milliken: On the job for 50 years, he sits through a meeting, listening like a submarine commander. Meeting ends. Five minutes later, I observe Roger pacing in the parking lot, dictating machine in hand, noting his observations -- and almost immediately translating these into "things to do."
* * *
Yours truly: I take a mass of notes -- perhaps 20 pages -- while listening to a two-hour presentation. In the next half hour I religiously retreat for a couple of minutes (literally) and distill these into summary points on a single 5 x 7-inch index card.
* * *
Jennifer Hansen, Hansen Design: "To keep myself focused at the beginning of a project, I start a small journal specifically for that job. . . . I jot my ideas for [that] project, whether a few words or a simple sketch, in [that] journal. I also tape and staple a lot of . . . article clippings and photocopies. . . . I also use these journals to keep notes from client phone calls and meetings. I keep this record with me until the close of the project -- it's a great reference tool."
From Aha!, by Jordan Ayan:
"Creative thinkers ranging from the inventors Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci to the novelist Virginia Woolf, the psychologist Carl Jung, and the naturalist Charles Darwin all have used journals and notebooks to record their ideas and inspirations. These people understood that new ideas often come from combining many disparate pieces of information or concepts over an extended period of time. The only effective way to track your ideas and synthesize them is to document them as soon as they bubble up in your mind. . . .
"One of the easiest and most effective ways to record your ideas is to start a personal 'idea journal.' By keeping this journal near you at all times -- on top of your desk, in your briefcase or purse, on the kitchen counter, on the nightstand by your bed -- you can record ideas that flash through your mind during the day and even at night. . . .
"Whatever form your journal-keeping takes, the most surefire way to murder your impulse to use it is imposing a set of meaningless rules or guidelines. For example, don't feel that your journal is worthless if you don't write in it every day, or if you don't use full, grammatically correct sentences. This is nonsense. . . .
"Use whatever journaling method works for you. One of the best methods I've heard about was developed by a manager at Boeing who wanted to track ideas he had while traveling. He carried pre-addressed, stamped postcards with him on which he wrote ideas as they hit him. Then he mailed the cards back to his house. I also know people who call their voice-mail boxes and leave themselves messages. And tiny tape recorders that will capture a spoken line or two are available inexpensively. There is no end to the clever (and creative) ways you can record and document your ideas."
Tom Comment: Strong . . . and important . . . stuff! Put this book down. Right now.(But please pick it up again later!) Go out and buy yourself a journal -- or start on the nearest scrap of paper -- and make your first observation. It could well be one of the most important steps of your entire career. (P.S. I'm not exaggerating!)
1. Buy a simple spiral-bound notebook. TODAY. Label the front cover "Cool." Label the back cover "Awful." START RECORDING. TODAY.
2. Wander the local mall . . . TODAY . . . for one hour. Write down 10 "cool" and 10 "awful" observations: great (and awful) service, signage, merchandise, food, restrooms, decor, music, whatever.
3. Record these observations on your computer. Translate four of them to your current project.
4. Work with one or two pals on this. Start an Observations Fanatics Team. Share your "data" . . . and translate your insights/observations to your project(s).