By Cyndee Miller
Like many of you, this year has pushed me into some serious darkness at times—and it’s not like I’m a sunshine-unicorns-and-fluffy-kittens kind of person to begin with. So as I logged into the latest PMI Virtual Experience Series—at 6 a.m. nonetheless—I wasn’t exactly exuding optimism and hope, even with the promise of a day devoted to discussions around “A New World View: Our Global Impact.”
But it was hard not to be moved by Malala Yousafzai. As a teen, she began advocating for girls’ education around the world, which made her a prime target in her homeland of Pakistan, and in 2012, she was shot in the head on the way home from school. Undeterred, she founded the Malala Fund from her new home in the U.K. The group’s first project, which sent 40 girls ages 5 to 12 back to school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley region, earned a slot on PMI’s list of the Most Influential Projects of the past 50 years. Now 23, she’s an icon—a global activist, a best-selling author, the subject of an award-winning documentary and a Nobel Laureate (the youngest ever, might I add). And even with all the problems facing the world, her message to project leaders was clear: Stay committed to your mission—you can make a difference and reimagine a new reality. “What favors the oppressors is when we give up on our activism,” she said.
The pandemic is no doubt a crisis, but it also allows us to pinpoint flaws in the system—and take action. “I want us to reset the world that we are living in,” Yousafzai said. And how do we do that? “Work together with ambition and optimism.”
She sees it already happening through next-gen activists, whether they’re working on the Black Lives Matter movement or climate change. “The voices of young people are echoing around the world,” she said. “We are inheriting this world, and we don’t want it the way it is. We want it to be cleaner, more peaceful and fairer for everyone.”
What many emerging young people lack in experience, they make up for in energy, enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn. Their work and roles on teams is not to be discounted, she said: “It’s important for our elders to listen to us, to listen to the younger generation. The people on the ground doing the actual work need to be on the stage.”
Throughout her quest to ensure access to free and safe education for girls, Yousafzai has realized the benefits extend far beyond the classroom. “We want more peace, we want to fight terrorism and reduce wars. We can’t solve these issues just by sending in weapons,” she said. “We have to invest in local communities and allow them to have opportunities.”
From this vantage point, hope is a byproduct of opportunity. Without opportunity and access, little can be achieved.
Author Sangu Delle sees a similar parallel while advocating for entrepreneurship in Africa. Creating a business-friendly environment and, in turn, opportunity on the world’s youngest continent—via infrastructure investment, sound policies and good governance—will reap exponential rewards, he said. “We need to empower entrepreneurs to go out there and create the businesses of the future that will create jobs."
He also encouraged people to look beyond some of the stereotypes that surround Africa.
“The Africa I know is one of extraordinary creativity, incredible innovation,” Delle said. “Yes, there are some struggles in certain places with poverty and with development and with infrastructure, but there are also lots of incredible opportunities going on.”
Like Yousafzai and Delle, PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara sees an opportunity for self-assessment and change in this time of uncertainty. If organizations can maintain control and transparency, they can increase innovation and productivity, he said. One prime way of making that happen: citizen development. By introducing non-IT professionals to low- or no-code development platforms, more people can turn innovative ideas into reality. And given the global shortage of coders and developers, “the citizen development movement is going to be a major gamechanger,” said Prashara.
Opportunity opens doors—but it doesn’t replace hard work and perseverance. And it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of failure. Part of moving forward involves shaking off inevitable professional stumbles and believing in yourself. Failure is a necessary part of activism, said Yousafzai, but true defeat lies in giving up.
“Do not give up on your dream, as big as it is,” she said. “When your goals are big, the effort you put into it is also big. And the outcome is far bigger.”
Keep moving forward and get ready for the next Experience PMI event, “A Deep Dive in Business Analysis: Drawing a Map to the Future,” slated for 12 November: http://ow.ly/kydf50B8Vik
In the meantime, weigh in below on what people and projects are giving you hope—and helping you stay on mission.
by Conrado Morlan
The term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world has been around for a while. But 2020 will be remembered as the year that forced every organization to deal with the VUCA world. And the most successful ones will be those that find ways to improve the capability of their leaders by acquiring new ways of thinking.
Yet even before COVID, PwC’s annual CEO survey found a majority of executives reporting they didn’t have the talent needed to grow their organizations and respond to increasing complexities.
Today’s VUCA world demands vertical development. What exactly does that mean? The acquisition of skills, certifications, and experience is essentially learning or horizontal development. Vertical development helps the individual change to become more sophisticated, mature, and capable.
Put simply: Horizontal development transforms what you know; vertical development transforms how you think.
Typically, vertical development involves the following:
Vertical development isn’t exclusive to leaders at the top of the organizational hierarchy. It’s for anybody in the organization, including project professionals.
If project managers and/or organizational leaders respond to the VUCA world simply through learning a few more skills, it’s not going to produce any significant benefit. They must develop their capabilities, adapt, and expand their ability to respond to the challenges. Vertical development involves a transformation of their consciousness.
To understand the difference between horizontal and vertical development, think of a cup of water. Individuals developing horizontally are pouring water into their cups. Individuals developing vertically need a bigger cup.
As project managers grow into their leadership roles, it becomes less about their mastery of frameworks, methodologies, tools, and techniques, and more about their container. The level of consciousness to navigate the complexity of the VUCA world requires a bigger cup.
One of the greatest benefits of vertical development is how it fosters increased mental complexity, innovation, emotional intelligence, and the ability to resolve conflicts constructively. This translates to an improved ability to interpret situations and make effective decisions—two essential skills needed to tackle problems in the VUCA world.
How are you and your team using vertical development to deal with today’s VUCA world?
Alexis Ohanian has racked up quite a list of accomplishments in his 37 years. He cofounded Reddit, sold it and then came back to help rescue it. He wrote a bestselling book. He cofounded a seed stage venture fund. But when it came time to have a chat with one of his fellow speakers at the latest gathering in PMI’s Virtual Experience Series, he seemed deeply concerned that people were going to be convinced he was a slacker. It wasn’t entirely unjustified. He was, after all, talking to Tanya Elizabeth Ken, the 17-year-old founder of LakshyaShala, an NGO dedicated to helping kids around the world gain equal access to education.
No shocker here, both of them had some interesting thoughts on how to revamp the educational ecosystem—a timely topic as kids around the world head back to school.
Introducing children to the virtual classroom forms habits that impact future work behaviors and outcomes. “Teaching someone how to learn online unlocks all kinds of doors,” Ohanian said.
With the vast power harnessed by digital learning comes an even greater responsibility to create platforms that are accessible. Despite all of the technological advances spurred by the global pandemic, systems of education remain unbalanced across the globe.
“Virtual learning can reach a wider audience, but we need to take into account the people who don’t have the access/resources,” said Ken. “If you want to solve a problem like equality in education, then we need to solve all the hindrances families are seeing.”
There’s still work to be done, she said. And while improving access to education sits high on her priority list, so too does improving the quality of education.
“The education system does not teach us entrepreneurship and project management skills,” Ken said.
Ohanian admitted he didn’t think much about project management until college and even then he used it mostly to plan his EverQuest guild or Quake 2 clan. But he also said those skills were the only way he was able to develop Reddit. “Project management is how you build a startup,” he said. (It’s also apparently how he helped plan his rather complex wedding. “It wasn’t always that romantic, but it was effective, gosh darn it.”)
Whatever the project you’re working on, this is a time that demands the ability to contend with astounding change. And empowering students to think of themselves as problem-solvers builds that agility from early on, said Ohanian. “Real life doesn’t have a syllabus,” he said. “The more a student can exercise the muscles of resilience, the better.”
Part of building resilience—on projects and in the classroom—is pushing past failure.
“You’re taught to avoid failure at all costs as a student, to get good grades, but life is full of failures and setbacks,” he said. “Get comfortable with failure—not because you’re not doing the work, but because struggling and disappointment and learning from it, that’s life.”
That theme of resiliency bubbled up quite a bit and it’s no doubt emerging as the new must-have skill as we all attempt to navigate the next normal. The goal shouldn’t be to just bounce back, but to bounce forward, said session speaker Greg Githens, PMP. Expect to be surprised—and seize the unknown, he said. Don’t let uncertainty stall progress: Do a lot and do it now, said session speaker Norma Lynch, PMP.
So get cracking. And get ready for the next Experience PMI event, “A New World View: Our Global Impact,” slated for 20 October: http://ow.ly/569n50Biskx
Before we reconvene on the Interweb, tell me: How are you becoming a more resilient leader?