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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More articles on Project Management:
- Are You Changing Tactics or Moving the Goal Posts?
- When we make a mid-course correction in a project, we're usually responding to a newly uncovered difficulty
that requires a change in tactics. Sometimes, we can't resist the temptation to change the goals of
the project at the same time. And that can be a big mistake.
- Dispersity Adversity
- Geographically and culturally dispersed project teams are increasingly common, as we become more travel-averse
and more bedazzled by communication technology. But people really do work better together face-to-face.
Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams.
- The Injured Teammate: I
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is very ill or has been severely injured. How do you
handle it? How do you break the news? What does the team need? What do you need?
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: I
- When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting."
We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?
- Risk Creep: II
- When risk events occur, and they're of a kind we never considered before, it's possible that we've somehow
invited those risks without realizing we have. This is one way for risk to creep into our efforts. Here's
Part II of an exploration of risk creep.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.