When I heard that Dave Pollard (Authour of the “Sweet Spot”) was chatting with Dave Snowden (Mr Complexity) … a metaphor jumped to mind that brings the 2 together. Forgive the simplicity of this metaphor.
Some background and context …
In the real world of ‘behaviour change’ projects, project coordinators are often funded by government agencies. These agencies are usually hierarchical and therefor demand a degree of certainty … a plan thought out in advance that delivers on milestones and performance targets. It’s tax payer’s money, so you need to show (ahead of time) how you ‘think’ you might achieve outcomes.
Now let’s assume that our behaviour change project is COMPLEX – that is … Best Practice doesn’t exist and the links between cause and effect are not known ahead of time.
Ok, our project is now 3 months old and, like in every complex project, the unexpected happens and you start to notice new stuff! People ‘closest to’ the project are offering advice and you are trying to listen with the ‘noise’ of performace targets and your own assumptions ringing in the background. This creates a tension between what was ‘expected’ and what is ‘actually’ happening.
Finding Your Project’s Sweet Spot in a World of Complexity – In this metaphor, the Strings in your tennis racket are your Project Plan.
When your Strings are strung really tight … they are hard to move around. When you hit the ball there is no ‘give’ and you need to work a lot harder! With tight strings you have more ‘control’ over the ball AND the racket’s ‘sweet spot’ is small. There is less margin for error and strings break much more easily!
*A ‘tightly strung’ Project Plan has a small sweet spot. You control where the money goes and what activities you implement ahead of time BUT there is little flexibility. The project activities (and budget allocation) are difficult to move around even when your monitoring highlight the need for change. Your project plan is tight and you end up working really hard all of the time! Finding the ‘sweet spot’ in your project is made even more difficult by the realities of the ‘real world’ … the unpredictability of your opponent … the uneven surface of the court … the wind conditions etc …
When the same racket is strung loose … the strings are easy to move around. Hitting the ball feels like a trampoline and you do not need to work as hard! You do, however, have less ‘control’ over the ball and the end result (but you don’t pretend to have control anyway because it’s complex!). The racket’s ‘sweet spot’ is larger and much easier to find. The strings also last a lot longer!
*A ‘loosely strung’ Project Plan has a larger sweet spot. Project activities and priorities can be shifted around easily in response to monitoring activities. When the ‘unexpected’ occurs, finding your sweet spot is easier. Best of all, when you are really tuned into what is going on in the real world of change, you don’t need to work as hard!
Some other points about Tennis & Change Projects …
Remember, you are never ‘in control’ of your opponent’s actions and the ‘outcome’ of the match. A game of tennis is unpredictable and complex … just like our CHANGE projects.
Champion players are able to get ‘in the zone’ and make everything look so easy. Being ‘in the zone’ means be ‘present’ to what is happening ‘in the moment’ . It also means to ‘let go’ of any expectation to win or fear of the failure. Champions gain their confidence not from winning lots of matches, but from not being fearful of losing and taking risks.
In Sum …
When your project plan is too tight, rigid and difficult to move, you are going to struggle to find the ‘sweet spot’. An inflexible project plan assumes too much about future outcomes and assumes ‘best practice’ exists. You’ll end up working way too hard with a ‘command and control’ mindset.
When your project plan has some ‘flex’ built in, you can improvise along the way and respond to the realities of a complex world. With flexibility in mind, you are more likely to listen and sense how people are responding to your project. Your project’s sweet spot is larger and easier to find. Sit back more and don’t work so hard!
Please build on what I have started hereadd to this metaphor in your comments.