A pet project is an effort that has captured organizational resources beyond the levels that correspond to its degree of organizational support. Usually we associate pet projects with specific individuals — those with some means of allocating resources to the project. In the metaphor, these individuals are "nurturing" or "keeping" their pets.
What motivates nurturers of pet projects? Here are some possibilities.
- Some nurturers adopt or conceive pet projects because they believe success will aid them in competition with peers for recognition, promotion and organizational prominence. They want to get ahead.
- Nurturers sometimes identify with their pets. Those who do identify make a direct connection between project travails and personal travails; between project failure and personal failure; and between project success and personal success.
- Some pet projects confer benefits on parties other than their nurturers, such as customers or suppliers. For instance, the pet project might lead to dramatically increased sales for a particular supplier if the project is adopted and expanded by the organization. The nurturers of these projects sometimes make arrangements with these beneficiaries to kick back some of those benefits to the nurturer, possibly in hidden and potentially illegal or unethical ways.
- Some nurturers find their pet projects so fascinating that they take great risks just to have the opportunity to pursue them. They're hooked.
- Nurturers Attaching oneself to someone's
pet project can be a risky
career movesometimes seek to differentiate themselves from colleagues in incontestable ways. They hope that their pet projects will demonstrate their personally unique capabilities, vision or insight.
- Involved in debates long ago, having had their own positions rejected, some nurturers pursue pet projects almost single-mindedly to prove the rightness of their past claims. This pursuit can endure even after those who opposed the nurturers have left the organization.
Since all of these motives are primarily personal, the focus of the nurturer's attention is also mostly personal. Attaching oneself to the pet projects of these nurturers can therefore be a risky career move, because the nurturer and anyone affiliated with the project can be reassigned, stigmatized or worse, when the organization discovers the project.
But there is one additional motivation that does create true opportunities both for the organization and its people. Some nurturers have a vision for what could be that transcends the present state of things. Unfortunately, from their position in the organization, they've so far been unable to persuade the organization of the importance of the vision. They might lack the skills of influence, or their genius might be so advanced that the organization simply cannot grasp the concept. For these nurturers, a pet project is the best available alternative.
Working for, collaborating with, supervising, or aiding these visionaries can be both stimulating and rewarding. The trick is identifying them.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.