Posts Tagged ‘Shaman’

The Soul of a Project #8: The Project Shaman

by Gary Monti on March 27, 2012

Is five o’clock, Friday, the best time for your project? Ever wonder why you became a project manager? Does it all feel like it’s crashing down around you? If so, you are in good company. George Lucas had similar feelings regarding R2-D2 and other production problems when shooting the first Star Wars (now episode four: A New Hope).

When it comes to dealing with difficult situations Lucas has some very good advice, “It helps to be nuts.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. I’d like to believe, thought, there is something deeper implied in that humor. It has to do with shamans and how they helped tribal chiefs find their way in guiding the tribe. Shamans were usually a little bit nutty, almost schizophrenic, and often would live beyond the edge of the village. There was a reason for this.

The chief guided tribes on a routine basis, making sure the rules were followed and adjudicating accordingly when there were disputes. But what about when the rules didn’t work? What about when a decision was needed as to whether or not the tribe should stay where it is or move to a strange, new land?

This is where the shaman came into play. The shaman was unencumbered by the body politic of the tribe and its rules. He was free to look within and without as far as his minds eye could see. There is a trivialized phrase that apes what the shaman would do, “think outside the box.” The shaman would go further and wonder, “Why bother with the box? What about a sphere? What about nothing at all?” You get the picture.

So the question is, “Would your project benefit by you taking a shaman’s approach?” Is there a different way you could see the situation that would bring about improvement? Here’s an example. I had a client whose customer was driving him nuts. E-mail after e-mail was sent every day questioning the progress of the project. My client was going crazy and falling into an ever-increasing reactive state.

A simple question flipped the situation into a new universe, “Do you know your customer?” he proceeded to spew a great deal of what was already known, e.g., how difficult he was, how his demands were unrealistic, etc., etc. The question was then modified a bit, “Do you know your customer personally?” That brought a blank stare.

It was the pursuit of doing something about that blank stare that turned things around.  A slow but concerted effort to find out more about the customer revealed he liked custom cars and fishing – the same hobbies as my client! You can probably guess the rest from here. My client got permission to fly to his customer’s for an extended weekend. They went to a custom car show as well as fly-fishing over a 4-day period. The flurry of e-mails stopped and they got down to business and were able to focus on completion of the project.

So, is there a shaman within you? Can you color outside the lines and view the world from a different perspective? Would doing so possibly show where a door exists through which you’ll find a solution to your project’s problems? Give it a shot. Go ahead and dream!

We left off in the last blog with the tribe being very practical and safely bringing the sun back from the eclipse through ritual drumming.  The Chief, Shaman, and members of the village saw the need for executing the ritual – cause and effect. The idea of not drumming is so terrifying simply talking about it could have serious repercussions. The Chief could land very hard on anyone foolish enough to talk about modifying, let alone abandoning, the ritual.

This brings us to the third purpose of myth – social order – or more simply, sociology. As seen with the village sociology can tie very closely to the second purpose of myth, cosmology. This co-mingling can lead to a very thorny issue, i.e., the use of power. Before looking at power directly some background is needed.

Dirt and Mothers

The phrase “human being” has its roots in the Latin word “humus” meaning “rich earth.” It’s all about establishing roots, being accepted and nurtured, and eventually striking out on our own. It’s the Circle of Life. This reality is reflected in earth-based religions by the primary god Mother Earth. (Father Sky is the other primary god but we’ll save him for a later blog.) How the world moves (cosmology) and the rules for being in it (sociology) are intertwined and taught from the moment of birth. The weave can be so tight they appear as one. It is good for stability but can create an obstacle for change. Vision can be clouded. Let’s see how that can affect business.

Obi Wan, Darth, and Case Studies

Imagine during the eclipse the Chief turns to a village and says, “The drumming is not enough, you must sacrifice all you have so the sun returns!” How much pressure does the villager feel? Are the situation and feelings any different than when a boss (being practical) tells a subordinate to unquestioningly produce more? Like the Chief the boss can consolidate his investment in power by keeping the social directive (sacrifice and productivity) tightly bound to the cosmology (business processes and goals).

The boss could also work like the brave Chief who separates the two and does the equivalent of allowing Newtonian mechanics to be embraced. Doing this, though, could put his power base at risk. He could lose his grip and no longer be the keeper of the rules of the universe. It would no longer be His cause or His effect. And while like the villagers employees would be free to expand their lives the boss has to find another reason for the employees to respect and follow him. A more entertaining version of all this can be found in the Star Wars saga with the struggle between Obi Wan and Darth. With the best of intentions Darth believed life is a case study. Cause and effect could be audited and projected into the future and the social structure controlled. Obi Wan was much wiser. He saw that there are guiding principles and a (business) leader earns the trust and following of others. In other words, in a changing situation power is let loose and the leader leans into the situation and lets a new social order arise as the cosmology changes.

Helping Clients Change

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