Actually, the journey continues here.
We don’t get a lot of do-overs in life. Life continues. We move forward. We build on what comes before. With luck, we learn from it. It’s part of us. Not only can’t we undo the past, it is pointless to try. What matters is what happens next.
The last couple of years have for me tried to be, for many reasons, a break with the past. A new home in a new (well old also, but new now) province. A restarting of my career. A doctorate completed. A book written. A striving to discover a way to continue forward.
At the same time, who I am today is a product of who and where I have been before, and what I have done along the way to get to here. My next steps aren’t about letting go of where I have been and starting over from scratch. They are about building on that history.
My life (or a chunk of it) has always been about getting things done. About tackling large problems and figuring out how to solve them. This has involved a lot of exploration, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of working through things. Finding what works, and keeping it. Finding what doesn’t work, and improving, or changing, or learning from that. Throwing away and starting over what simply doesn’t work.
A lot of what I have done to date has been under the label of ‘project management.’ That is largely because I found in project management a lot of tools that helped. They didn’t always help the way they were supposed to, mind you, and they weren’t always perfect, but they were a good starting point. With adaptation, and intelligent application, and some experimentation and free-wheeling creativity, they were a pretty good way of solving some complex challenges. At least, they were better than what had come before. And that is the whole point of building on where you’ve been.
And yet, project management has become a little rigid in practice. A lot rigid, actually. It has started to feel prescriptive and proscribed, where much of what I have valued—and that I still value—is about being able to use structure and flexibility in equal measure to solve the problem at hand. That, I think, is what I have been reacting to, and responding negatively about, in the world of project management. That’s what I started pushing back against. That is what I have been trying to break from and move past.
For me, rigidity isn’t the answer when the problems we are trying to solve are complex, uncertain and difficult. And, more and more, the problems we are facing—as individuals, as teams, as organizations, as governments and as society—are complex and uncertain and messy. So there are approaches that can be adopted, but there are new solutions that are also required. We need to create, and solve, and lead, and work in ways that allow for flexible adaptation to the problem at hand. Which means we need to be able to assess and evaluate the problem at hand. And we need to adapt and tailor approaches that seems appropriate. We need to be confident that we have—or have access to—a range of tools, and approaches, and people that can help. We need to be willing to change out strategies and course correct when things aren’t working well. And we need to be able to communicate, and lead, and confront, and provide some level of support and inspiration and hope and assurance along the way. That’s a tall order to fill, and a harder one to sustain. But these are the challenges that today’s leaders are facing, and if they are going to be successful, they will need to sort out a way of working that does all of this at a minimum, and does still more besides before they are done. We don’t just need a way of working that allows us to succeed today; we also need a way of learning that allows us to successfully evolve our way of working tomorrow.
The attainment of results in the face of uncertainty has been my journey so far. That continues to be my journey going forward. That is the work that I have always been called to. That is the work that continues to call me now.
Going forward looks and feels somewhat different, but it continues to draw upon and build on the foundations that have already been established. This journey represents an unbroken—but at times meandering—path from where I have been to where I am, and from where I find myself today to where I will be going tomorrow.
My focus, my mission, my purpose is still the same. To figure out, to help develop, to make visible, to teach, to adapt and to evolve strategies that get things done. To confront and explore and solve elaborate challenges, to manage uncertainty and to lead effectively in situations of complexity.
The labels that apply in solving these problems may vary. Project management. Decision making. Strategy. Leadership. They all play a part, but these are all just organizing labels that are designed to create the appearance of order and precision in a messy and complex world. The real work, without labels, is to get meaningful stuff done despite that messiness and complexity, acknowledging, embracing and working within the chaos that exists.
I am looking forward to continuing the journey. I hope you will accompany me, and join it in ways that feel useful and relevant to you. This might be to help, to contribute, to learn, to discuss or to ask questions. Or to walk for a time along the same path, exploring some of the same problems, experiencing some of the same frustrations and celebrating the discovery of some meaningful solutions.