I’ve been hearing a lot of advertisements of late that incorporate some of the factors and circumstances surrounding operating or restarting business during and immediately after government policy and socially-driven restrictions begin to ease or go away altogether. Something that I’ve noticed about these ads is an irksome consistency, almost as if they were all written by the same advertising agency, employing the same copywriters. These templates are usually highly consistent with the following:
“Hi, we’re (company name), and we have (been with this community a long, long time; had the honor of serving you over the past few years; just became a member of this city), and know what it means to (struggle through these times; face challenges we never thought we’d face; work to come together to overcome a shared crisis). In these difficult times (“difficult times” and “new normal” don’t get alternative phrasing – I suspect there’s a law that says these exact terms MUST be used) we’re here to help you (get through these difficult times; serve your needs during these difficult times; help you adjust to the new normal). We’re open for business, and can arrange for (our people to perform their service in your home while maintaining social distancing protocols; us to deliver your order to your door; you to pick up your [product] using curb-side delivery). Please call us at …” Oh, sure, there’s some additional fluff thrown in, but these four sentences seem to make up the bulk of all recently-introduced advertising. There’s even a hilarious YouTube® video, spliced together from some national (or even international) campaigns that use the exact same verbiage, over and over.
This got me to thinking about all of the paper presentations I’ve subjected myself to over the years, at Project Management-centered conferences and seminars, and even a symposium on artificial intelligence, and how a certain consistency in messaging seems to pervade all of these macro-communication events as well. This, in turn, got me to thinking about what my present-day self would tell my thirty-year-old self about how to pick sessions in a PM (or other) conference, based on clues in the short synopsis listed in the conference’s schedule, or program.
The first thing I’d tell my younger self would be is that there are, broadly speaking, three bins in which virtually all conference papers can be placed:
- Yet another reiteration of rather old and well-known management strategies or techniques (usually Earned Value or Critical Path methodologies, but others have used this approach, as well), and how macro organizations really, really need to adapt them on a larger scale. The reasons for this push for broader usage typically come down to:
- Everyone knows this is the right way of doing things; well, if not everyone, then certainly the people in the know.
- Organizations that have adapted these practices broadly are more successful than those that don’t. And, if you ask us to back up this a priori assertion, we’ll point to anecdotal evidence only.
- Anyone who disagrees with this paper presentation is an idiot.
I refer to these as “eat-your-peas-style hectoring” papers, and make every effort to avoid them. Their giveaway phrases in the seminar program are “basic” and “fundamental(s) of…” If you see either of these phrases, do something else with your time.
- The presenter was a
bitkey player in some gee-whiz project, and their success (rarely defined in terms of coming in on-time, on-budget) was due to some component of the PM codex, and the presentation has to do with the story behind the epiphany that led to this “success.” The giveaway here is the mention of the aforementioned gee-whiz project anywhere in the program’s syllabus.
- This last bin is the rarest, but most valuable: it is composed of those presenters who have actually performed some legitimate academic research, have developed some management insight or supportable hypothesis, and are looking to publish or socialize the results. These are usually identifiable by the absence of the previously-mentioned indicators.
Perhaps the primary reason the third category is so rare has to do with its very nature. Any valid research that paves the way to enhanced PM strategies or techniques that also has the characteristic of being transferrable AND scalable is obviously going to be a thing of value to the organization where it was discovered or derived – hence the reason business methods are patentable, as long as they meet the following criterion:
- It must be novel and non-obvious.
- It must be a process that creates a useful, concrete, and tangible result.
- The business method must involve some kind of technology, hardware, or equipment.[i]
Now ask yourselves, GTIM Nation: If you were to develop a management science technique or insight that met all of these criterion, would you rather (a) find a way to monetize it, in such a way that it brings compensation to you and/or your organization, or (b) pay money out to seminar sponsors for the honor of presenting such an idea to complete strangers, whose only possible avenue for recompense would be a high ranking on the speaker evaluation forms?
This means that the safest venue for third-bin presenters would be … authors of PM-themed books. Their motives are, well, if not pure, then purely understandable – they want to sell more books. They’ve done the research, and have put their usable ideas into a transferrable packet – otherwise no publishing house would bother with them. And, by developing and researching their ideas to a usable end, they end up advancing Project Management science in ways that the eat-your-peas hectorers or “my project was a success because of me” presenters could never approach. So, to my 30-year-old self, I would advise: seek out the columnists, bloggers, writers. That’s where the worthwhile ideas get vetted.
But if any of these authors starts on about “these difficult times,” then they’ve lost me.
[i] Retrieved from https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/what-a-business-method-patent-is on May 25, 2020, 19:10 MDT.