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ProjectManagement101.3-Someone Elses Dream

"Remember the caterpillar who somehow managed to choreograph his footsteps until some observer asked him how he managed to do that."

When The Muse asks me, as she has many, many times over the years, about my purpose, I respond with a heap of silence. I understand that almost every self-helpless manual insists that one must get in touch with their purpose, and even dress up that knowledge with a brief but compelling introductory elevator speech, the question reliably renders me speechless. It might be that my purpose is so subtle and compelling that it transcends language itself, but it's more likely that I hold so many competing compelling purposes that I simply cannot quickly choose from among them at a moment's prompt, though I doubt it. I manage to get out of bed every morning, but I do not very often rise with a full head of steam to charge off toward some alluring horizon.

The subject of motivation has already filled more essays than I'll ever read, or care to read.
I believe that motivation qualifies as one of those cheap characterizations of an infinitely richer human experience; mysterious, and perhaps meant to be, not improved by explication. I find the standard Utopian objectives utterly demotivating. Trying to compel me to join some pursuit of world dominion will most likely drive me back to bed where I'll curl up beneath the covers until the provocation goes away. Hold me responsible for demonstrating my rabid fealty to some lofty objective and I'll most likely just check out on the proposition. My motives belong to me and nobody else. Dangling a carrot in front of me or chasing me with a whapping stick will turn me against contributing to your 'project' and most likely turn me into a dedicated foe of it. No one ever lacks motivation except when pursuing someone else's dream.

Perhaps the most wrong-headed notions about 'project' work center around the necessity of motivating team members. The sponsor or the 'project' manager tries to deliver one of Patton's stirring speeches but only manages instead to implant an insidious sort of cynicism into the community. These attempted inspirations strike many as pathetic pleadings, like a mother insisting that her headstrong son put on a sweater because
she's cold; a disqualifying insistence, when she could just let that boy fend for himself. One of my watchwords of project work says, "Never be needier than your project," and the serial insistence that everyone demonstrate proper motivation (and worse, that everyone find that motivation from whatever floats the insisting leader's boat) fully qualifies as the perfect demonstration of insidious neediness.

Motivation's deeply personal. Who is motivated by being exhorted to feel motivated? Why I show up isn't anyone else's concern. I think it better to presume that every contributor arrives mature enough to sort out their own purpose for engaging whether or not they ever choose to share that data point with anyone else. Of course the sponsor and the 'project' manager will probably feel compelled to share their personal purpose with more people than personally give a rip. As long as they refrain from insisting that everyone be 'on the same page', they're likely doing no harm from sharing. I, too, might choose to share why I chose to engage, but not to entice or seduce. I might need some help staying focused or I might just want someone else to know, though there should be no requirement for me, or anyone, to do so.

'Projects' exist not as any laser-like efforts, but as initiatives fueled by thousands of unique individual energy sources, a common purpose powered by a variety of individual purposes, many, perhaps most, eternally unspeakable, with no compelling need to ever put them into words. Remember the caterpillar who somehow managed to choreograph his footsteps until some observer asked him how he managed to do that. Then, stunned by misguided self-awareness, he stalled.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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