PMI + TED: Possibility Speaks

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by Cyndee Miller

There’s something about TED Talks that suck you in. Those big red letters on a stage signal this isn’t just another presentation. And TED’s 18-minute rule is genius. The videos are long enough to provide real substance—while feeling zero guilt about forwarding them on and building a veritable viral sensation—and short enough to keep you from checking your social feed. So I was wildly curious about what to expect walking into the closing session of this year’s EMEA Congress: As part of PMI joining forces with TED, attendees got a specially curated series of five live talks around the power of possibility.

“What’s possible in the world is really bound by two things if you think about it,” said Sally Kohh, a political pundit and TED speaker who hosted the event. “There’s what’s literally possible—what we can actually, tangibly, scientifically, physically do—and then there’s what we think is possible. And often we don’t try things—we don’t even think things—not because we can’t do them, but because we don’t think we can. We circumscribe our own aspirations and sense of the possible, and therefore actually constrict what’s possible before we even start.”

That all sounds lovely. But it also conjures up images of sunshine, kittens and unicorns. Then in walks Mona Chalabi, data editor at The Guardian, with her take on the possibility of information. Aside from my own personal addiction to news and numbers, I spend a lot of time wading through research reports. So I was instantly intrigued by what Ms. Chalabi had to say: “When it comes to numbers, especially now, you should be skeptical.”

Instead of blindly accepting (or rejecting) data, she challenged attendees to ask three questions—our very own sniff test of sorts:

  1. Can you see uncertainty?  
  2. Can you see yourself in the data?
  3. How was the data collected?

Data can be powerful, but it can also be used to drive division. Boston Consulting Group’s Julia Dhar discussed ways to find common ground by reshaping the way we talk to each other. It starts by separating a person’s identity from the idea—letting us ”open up to the idea that we might be wrong.” One tip from Ms. Dhar that project and program managers can immediately put to use: Devote 10 minutes of your meeting to real debate.

Anab Jain tackled another topic familiar to almost anyone in business, including most project professionals: trying to predict the future. Her advice? Stop being so passive.

“Today it can feel like things are happening too fast—so fast that it becomes really difficult to form an understanding of our place in history,” said Ms. Jain, co-founder of design and innovation studio Superflux. It can be so overwhelming that “we let the future just happen to us,” she adds. “We think of our future selves as strangers and the future as a foreign land.”

As you might suspect based on the sunshine, kittens and unicorns comment, I don’t exactly ooze optimism. So my ears perked up once again when human rights lawyer Simone George and Mark Pollock spoke about the dance between optimism and realism—or something else. “The realists have managed to resolve the tension between acceptance and hope by running them in parallel,” he said. Mr. Pollock had lost his vision at age 22, but was still running marathons around the world when he met Ms. George. After an accident left him paralyzed, the now-married couple went on a new quest, exploring the outer edges of spinal cord injury recovery with exoskeletons.

The final talk came from Ingrid Fetell Lee, who dug into the science behind joy. Sure, sometimes it’s just a superfluous extra driven by the inconsequential—ice cream cones, fireworks, bubbles—but Ms. Lee argues it helps create lifetime of happiness. “What we should be doing is embracing joy, and finding ways to put ourselves in the path of it more often.”

Check out more insights and info at PMI @ TEDSummit 2019 on 21-35 July in Edinburgh, Scotland and at the big PMI Global Conference on 5-7 October in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

And see you at next year’s EMEA Congress, happening 4-6 May in Prague, Czech Republic. Brzy se uvidíme

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 16, 2019 09:22 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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PMI & TED is awesome combination. Great initiative to bring two ICON together. Thanks for sharing!!

@Cyndee Miller: Thanks a million for your terrific coverage of the closing session of #PMIEMEA19!

Thanks, Cyndee!

Cyndee, thank you for sharing! As a member of this community and local TEDx event volunteer I'm super exited with the partnership.

Cyndee, great write up, those big red letters on a stage simply put you on the flow

PMI is making some powerful transforming changes – this is a great partnership.

Absolutely, there is something about TED, and this is a great partnership. Thanks Cyndee.

Great partnership

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