Nelson didn't know what more he could say. "I understand that there's still a lot that needs to be done, but I'd like to know what would happen if we declared victory and moved on to the next version."
Kathy spoke for the designers. "Hard to predict," she said. "Our original concept is seriously flawed. Many customers will be very unhappy with what we have."
Nelson was now exasperated. "How unhappy? In what way unhappy? What would be the effect of delay on market share?"
"I wouldn't know," replied Kathy, "but it's probably not good."
If you've ever put two or three years of your life into a project — a new product, a new law, a roadway, a book or a film — you've probably asked, "Is it good enough?" And maybe you've answered, "Not yet."
Some of our need for delay is real, and some could be the attachment we form to the product of our creativity. How can we learn to distinguish attachment from a real need for more work?
American Indians of the Southwestern U.S. are renowned for their arts, and especially for their textiles — blankets and rugs of incomparable design and multiple symmetries.
How do we know
when our work
is good enough?When Navajo designs have borders, they typically include a "Weaver's Pathway," sometimes called the "Spirit Line." It's a small line of contrasting color that passes from the inner field, penetrating the borders, until it reaches one edge. When non-Navajos notice it, they often see it as a flaw, because it violates all the symmetries of the pattern.
Noël Bennett, a longtime student of Navajo arts, explains the Weaver's Pathway as a means of escape. The artists fear that as they focus their energies on the work, the borders of the rugs (or blankets or pots or baskets) could entrap the artists' spirits, and they might lose their ability to create any more beautiful works.
According to Bennett, Navajo weavers describe this trapped state as "too much weaving," or "closing yourself in." The Weaver's Pathway reminds them that entrapment in the work is a threat to future creativity.
We face a similar risk in the project work that we do. We put much of ourselves into our projects, but we must remember to leave ourselves a way out, lest we become entangled in the work. That way out must violate the pattern of the work. An inelegance, asymmetry, or incompleteness, rather than being a sign of our incompetence, actually gives us a way to move to the next project.
When you next feel the need to make your work perfect, and people around you are asking you to let go, remember the Weaver's Pathway — look at the imperfections, and see them as a way to move on. Top Next Issue
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For more about the Navajo view, see Noël Bennett. The Weaver's Pathway: A clarification of the "Spirit Trail" in Navajo weaving. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press, 1974. Order from Amazon.com.
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- The metaphor "trimming the fat" rests on the belief that some parts of the organization are
expendable, and we can remove them with little impact on the remainder. Ah, if only things actually
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resources required, and the time required to get it done. The failure of superposition can be one reason
why we get it wrong.
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- Anticipating Absence: Passings
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rarely strike many co-workers in the same week, month, or year. There are exceptions — 9/11 was
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See also Project Management for more related articles.
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- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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