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Presentation Recap: INSPIRE — Rising Leaders Shaping the World: A Secret Formula for Project Managers
By Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez
I had the honor of presenting at PMI's Virtual Experience Series: PMXPO on 24 March, a global event attracting more than 64,000 attendees. My presentation, "INSPIRE — Rising Leaders Shaping the World: A Secret Formula for Project Managers," explained a framework I developed after researching hundreds of successful projects led by younger generations, such as the movement created by Greta Thunberg around climate change. As a reminder, here are the seven elements of the INSPIRE framework:
In this blog, I am responding to some of the questions raised during my presentation. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank everyone that participated and provided such fantastic feedback about my session.
Question #1: Interesting framework, but can it be universally applicable to every project?
In principle, all the seven elements of the INSPIRE framework can be applied to every project. However, depending on the type of project, some of the elements are less important. This is, in particular, the case for the purpose. Every project needs one; however, not all of them need a higher purpose that will have a massive impact on society. I would say the more important the change that our project is bringing, the more important the purpose. Also, some of the projects at work will not be possible all the time, due to different reasons, for example, a lack of resources or other priority projects. On the other hand, self-confidence, psychological safety, diversity, and engagement are elements that should always be considered when working on any project. As a project manager, it is essential to know when and to which extent to apply these elements in our projects.
Question #2: What do you mean when you talk about one project in organizations that makes their employees proud?
This is one of the most critical tools that organizations and their leaders should be using when looking at increasing the motivation of their employees and reducing the effects of the great resignation. Nowadays, most organizations have a purpose, but that is not enough. What makes employees proud is when there is an ambitious project linked to that higher purpose. For example, it is not enough to say we want to be a sustainable company. We need an ambitious and well-articulated project linked to it; for example, we are transforming all our products to be made of 100-percent recyclable materials by 2025. Contributing to this kind of project linked to a higher purpose is what makes employees eager to go to work every day and make a difference. My recommendation is that if organizations want to have more engaged employees, they should launch a project that will INSPIRE them.
Question #3: I'm not sure I agree with your overarching philosophy that children are smarter than adults. Remembering my own life experience is vital in learning to work with diverse technical groups and people with differing opinions. I think that is one reason there are not too many successful 20-year-old PMs.
I am not talking about young generations being smarter; I am saying that they look at the world very differently than adults. And we tend to impose our views on them, trying to fit them into our ways of thinking and behaving. This is what I think we should be changing. We should let young generations express their dreams and empower them to carry them out. Instead of telling them what to do, we should work together and benefit from their fresh perspectives, ambitious dreams, and lack of constraints that we have built over the years working in organizations. A great example is Boyden Slat, the 16-year-old Dutch who, after taking his first scuba dive in Greece, he launched The Ocean Cleanup project with just €300 in seed money, with the goal of removing 90 percent of marine plastic pollution by 2040. Incredible, right?
Question #4: To change the future, we should encourage the kids to understand that they do have the power to influence change.
Absolutely, this is the main point I shared in my presentation.We indeed need to let young professionals know that they have this special gift that adults don't have; the young have not been shaped in their way of thinking as adults have. Remember the two exercises we did together about the cake and the question of who can paint; in both cases, young professionals outperformed experienced professionals. We should encourage them to pursue their dreams, even if, to our eyes, they seem impossible - note that to their eyes, everything is possible.
Question #5: I don't ever think to make sure my team understands why they're doing what they're doing and the benefits surrounding what they do.
Thanks for sharing your experience about not spending time on the "why" of your projects, but you are not alone. Our existing methodologies have focused on the less inspiring elements of a project, which are mostly focused on the financial business case, scope, time, quality, budget, and deliverables, and we forget to spend time articulating on "why" we do the projects. A lot of my work has been on including the purpose of a project in the day-to-day practices of project management. The purpose is a key building block in my Project Canvas. What problem do we want to solve? What opportunity do we want to capture? Answering in simple terms and with a smart objective are among the most powerful ways to generate engagement in your projects, from your teams and your stakeholders. For example, instead of talking about your project delivering a new IT system, talk about why we do it. Talking about the purpose of your project with a SMART goal is transformational.
Question #6: As a PM in a supportive PMO in an organization that is not familiar with project management per se, the challenge has been to open up the box and get people to start thinking about "how can we..."or" what would it take to...". People are more used to looking at and worrying about the limits, even when those limits are artificial and self-imposed.
Good point. I think you are doing the right thing by letting people start thinking about how the PMO can help to overcome some of the traditional worries in an organization. By breaking up some of these old habits, leaders and managers will start to see projects as a strategic tool that delivers change, creates new value, and drives the organization into the future. Well done!
Question #7: This is a very important session. I learned what young people are doing successfully and how to apply those things done well to other projects. This is more useful than focusing solely on what was wrong. Focusing on gratitude and success creates more appreciation and successes.
Glad to hear that you learned such essential concepts during my presentation. What these young professionals are doing through their ambitious projects is not only making dreams a reality, but they are also generating a positive outlook on the world. Indeed, we tend to focus on the bad news and failures. The failure of the Berlin Airport or the Amazon Headquarters in New York got much more press. In the past, I have researched how our brain works. From my early book, The Focused Organization, and my TEDx talk, "Yes, Our Brain is Masochist," I found our brain focuses and spends seven times more on a negative story than on positive news, which is unbelievable. That is why most of the examples I use in my courses are around successful projects; some of them are amazing. And there is as much to learn from them as from any project failure. I'm glad that a few years ago PMI also turned towards successful projects with the list of the 50 most impactful projects. I think this is one of the most important research activities that PMI does every two years; unfortunately, it has not yet been captured by mainstream business media. But we definitely need to focus more on positives and success. That is what we do in project management, and people should know about that.
Have you come across other amazing projects carried out by youngsters? Any lessons learned?
My presentation is available on demand until 31 January 2023. Visit PMI Virtual Experience Series 2022 for more details. I am looking forward to seeing you at another event!
By: Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez
“This is the World being left to Us by Adults, we are the ones who will have to clean up the mess you Adults have made.” These recent words from Greta Thunberg to the New York Times touched me deeply.
I’d like to share an “aha-moment” that happened a few years ago. Besides having an impactful and fulling job managing projects, most of us want to have an influence to make a better world. Almost everyone tries to influence senior leaders who hold power today; yet, with regret, it is difficult to make any improvements, and, on the contrary, the world continues to fall apart.
During a call with some colleagues, one of them mentioned the work they were doing with teenagers, which was not to teach them how to do things but to empower them to let them make their dreams a reality. That made me reflect on one of the most significant movements in the past decade made by a 16-year-old from Sweden, Greta Thunberg.
Our world will become a better place thanks to the dreams and projects carried out by younger generations, not the current leaders; let’s learn from them, let’s work with them.
I spent months researching and found amazing projects carried out by young people to solve their local issues and others to address major global challenges. In my session at PMXPO, I will share several examples. Here is just one example:
INSPIRE: A Framework from These Rising Leaders’ Projects
Stories like these show the impact that the younger generation can have through projects to transform their world and how we can all learn from them. All these impactful projects have the following elements in common, which we should consider when undertaking our projects:
In my session, I will be examining each of these elements more closely and explain how they impact a project.
Some Organizations Are Already Doing Great Work
Over the past years, I have collaborated with several organizations working on new methods to empower the younger generation. Here is a brief list:
Feel free to reach out to them to find out more or even collaborate.
This INSPIRE approach might take a bit longer to address some of the major challenges we face, but from my research and the arguments exposed, it seems to be one of the best approaches to have an impact and create a better world through well-implemented projects.
If you are inspired by how the younger generation is trying to have an impact and making our world better and would like to hear useful tips that can impact your own projects, please join me at my session INSPIRE — Rising Leaders Shaping the World: A Secret Formula for Project Managers at PMI’s Virtual Experience Series: PMXPO on 24 March.