By Cyndee Miller
Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Trevor Noah. But even I was a bit surprised at his eloquence in speaking about managing projects—and what it takes to deliver them.
And those skills are coming in handy in these strange times.
Noah said he felt “inspired” by the opportunity to rethink how he does everything.
“It’s not often you get an opportunity to completely revamp what you do,” he said. “We cannot ignore the situation we’re in. It would be a disservice to not emerge from this without thinking about better ways of working—of living.”
That means abandoning your comfort zone. His approach? “I wake up every day saying this could be the day I get fired,” Noah said. “It makes me appreciate the fact that I’m not. It also makes me ask what else would I be doing?”
There are no rules, Noah said. And that opens up new opportunities for people to reinvent ways of working, to rewrite the rules and to reemerge better than before.
“For any project manager who’s out there thinking about the moment, try to apply yourself to thinking about how you would like an ideal system to be, as opposed to trying to apply an old system to this new world,” he said.
And yes, that includes one of the greatest questions of our Zoom-filled times: Do you really need that meeting? Or can you handle it over a text?
“We are in a situation where we can challenge conventional thinking,” PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara said in talking with Noah. “Be realistic and optimistic at the same time. That allows you to innovate.”
Note: This optimism isn’t the kind of unchecked, unicorn-and-kittens, pie-in-the-sky optimism. Meaningful innovation only happens when it’s based in reality. And right now that reality is intrinsically linked to COVID, which is serving as a catalyst for iteration and the exploration of new systems. The little virus is the ultimate gamechanger. “There’s nothing like a crisis to ignite innovation,” said Shobhna Raghupathy, PMP.
That means ditching those old prescriptive ways of thinking and activating a new set of power skills. Adaptability, communication and collaboration are the must-haves in the age of disruption, said Erick Means of CDW.
And forget failing fast. You’re still failing, said PMI’s Scott Ambler. Project leaders should instead aim to fail less often, learn faster and succeed earlier.
Much of innovation is tied to tech, of course, and project leaders mustn’t ignore the sometimes-sticky ethical issues that will inevitably bubble up.
“Every conversation about technologies should consider, ‘Okay, what are the ethical implications? What are the unintended consequences?,’” said Rana el Kaliouby, author and CEO of healthcare Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off focused on “bringing emotional intelligence to the digital world.”
The effects aren’t always what they would appear on the surface.
“My biggest concern is not that robots are going to take over—it’s that we’re accidentally building in bias in unintended ways,” said el Kaliouby. The best way to combat that? Build diverse teams of people with different POVs and perspectives.
Mark your calendars for the next Experience PMI event on 9 September, when Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and Lakshyashala Edutech’s Tanya Elizabeth Ken will lead the conversation on entrepreneurship and resilience. I’ll see you there—virtually, of course.
I’ll close out the same way PMI started each session throughout the day, with a simple question: What’s the one word you’d use to describe the work you’re doing today? Tell me in the comments below.
By Cyndee Miller
Greta Thunberg isn’t messing around. Joining forces with three other young climate change activists, she called on political leaders last week to stop talking and actually do something: “Our current system is not ‘broken’—the system is doing exactly what it’s supposed and designed to be doing. It can no longer be ‘fixed.’ We need a new system.”
For many people, taking on such massive issues can be overwhelming. And even the mighty Thunberg admits to Reuters she was “very worried” when she first began. “But when I started doing something, then there came hope from that. Because hope comes from action.”
Hope comes from projects.
Thunberg is part of a new generation of leaders who see that potential—and are using it to transform and define the future. Unflinching in the face of change. Naturally collaborative. Digitally fluent. Deeply committed to social good. Constantly learning.
This is the PMI Future 50. And they’re coming in with their own POV on building a better workplace—and a better world. There’s architecture activist Pascale Sablan, determined to right the social injustices embedded in design. Alagesan Hanippuya, PMP, is forging a fintech future in Southeast Asia. Tiago Chaves Oliveira, PMP, is pushing for more creativity and innovation in Brazil’s government. Gregory Daniels, PMP, is helping Zoom manage a 30-fold traffic surge amid the COVID-19 crisis. And there’s Thunberg, too.
They’re all putting their own stamp on the future of work and how projects get done. Deloitte reports nearly half of millennials and Gen Zers prioritize making a positive impact on society, for instance. And 32 percent of Gen Zers say they’re motivated to work harder and stay longer at a company if they have a supportive manager, per The Workforce Institute. It’s common enough advice for leaders, but this new cohort is determined to put it into action. “We need to take care of people. Just asking for results will not work. We also need to try to understand their needs and their perspectives and to encourage each person to ask critical questions,” says Gabriel Costa Caldas, director of operations at GPjr, Brasília, Brazil.
This also means a shift in the most in-demand skills. “I would expect big-picture thinking, creativity and empathy to play an even bigger role in successful project management,” says Miishe Addy, CEO of Jetstream Africa, Tema, Ghana.
Read more about the youthquake and meet all the Future 50 leaders in a special issue of PM Network® and in a series of videos and digital exclusives. (Pro tip: This is a multimedia affair to be enjoyed. Flipping through the pages of the magazine is a grand experience where you can take in everything and everyone at once, along with loads of pretty pictures. Check out the digital profiles and you’ll find most have Q&As at the end with some content that doesn’t appear in the magazine. And the videos let you see and hear these leaders in action.)
How is the next generation of leaders transforming your organizations and industries? And who gives you the most hope for the future? Fill me in in the comments.