Dragon Dreaming


John Croft, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

How do you make your own, or other people’s dreams come true? Leaders are often required to get things happening that have never happened before. Everywhere there is a gap between how things are and what they might become. Effective leadership is often a question of bridging this gap, of building a bridge, that enabling others to come to work together with the leader to achieve their own or the group’s vision.

This is what the process of project building is all about. A project is defined as any planned undertaking designed to achieve a goal of specified results within a given time. The results of most projects tend to be pretty depressing. In Western Australia, 90% of projects fail to last longer than 3 years. The people involved often become stressed, burned out and vow never to get involved in anything like this again. But it need not be that way.

This work is about running outrageously successful projects. But what is a “project”?

Normally people think of a project as some special activity, outside of normal everyday life, but the Project Management Institute defines a project “as any temporary endeavour undertaken to achieve a particular aim … regardless of the project’s size, budget, or timeline.”

This definition comes close to defining any intended human activity as “a project”, and in a very real sense this is true. The fact that we human beings have “aims” or “intentions” is part of the defining characteristics of us as individuals, and of our species, and helps define what we mean by human consciousness. While conscious awareness is considered to be the internal monitoring of one’s own states of mind, this does not occur in a vacuum. Conscious awareness is shaped by our own internally modeling of the world, creating a representation of what we think it is. This model is based, in part, upon past experiences but it is also shaped by one’s intention. Intentionality has to do with what the state of mind is engaged upon, and together with consciousness, determines what it is to have a mind. Intention helps shape what we pay attention to, and how we gather new information, which reflects back upon the models of the world we build and live our lives by. So in this way, to be human is to create projects, and projects in turn help create who and what we are.

But a project is not something wholly confined to the individual. It is a process of engagement, a deep dialogue with the world that is external to the individual person’s self definition. The project in this way can be seen as the way in which the individual heals their separation, fear, or domination of or by the world. It requires a process of “deep listening” if it is to be a true dialogue rather than a managerial monologue.

Project managers frequently claim ownership of the whole process of organizing and running projects, but this is the result of drastically inflating the importance of the “management” process. It also stems from an attempt to achieve “power over” the world, rather than realising that such a power is ultimately built upon the myth of redemptive violence. “Manage the project” successfully or else you will find that it takes control of you, we are told in numerous management texts. Thus to successfully run a project, we are told we need “Project Management”, involving the steps of Project Integration, Project Scope, Project Time, Project Cost, Project Quality, Project Human Resources, Project Communications, Project Risk, and Project Procurement. But this misunderstands the true nature of a project. Project management is only one of 12 essential processes required in running outrageously successful projects.

When looking at any project we find that every project start as the dream of a single individual person. Unfortunately, all to often that is as far as the project gets. Research indicates that 90% of projects get stuck in the dreaming stage, shelved until one day “I’ll get a round to it”, or put into a never-never land of “If only ---“ In order to move beyond the “dreaming” stage a project needs to be shared with others. A project, which remains locked in the imagination of one individual person, is a project in name only. To be successful the project needs to engage the wider, external world of the individual person’s environment. Into this process the individual contributes personal inputs – inputs of time and effort, energy, imagination, and perhaps even a monetary investment. Successful projects however, also have an output, a positive effect or impact upon the people who get engaged in the project. Unsuccessful projects may have negative effects that can activate instinctual responses such as freeze, flight or fight. However, even unsuccessful projects may result in individual or organizational learning. They can also, unfortunately result in negative consequences such as the dehumanization and disempowerment of the people involved. 

It is always the world we engage with in our projects. Although it is true that we create our own realities, this process of creation does not come exclusively from within ourselves, only through our intentions or awareness. The world with which we engage is an alive, radically “other”, separate from “the self” of the individual person. Whilst this boundary between “self” and “other” is a negotiated boundary, we need to recognise that we are not a “skin encapsulated ego”. The membrane around a living cell is ultimately an organ of communication between the interior life of the self and exterior life in which it is engaged. Similarly the boundary between “self” and “other”, between “individual” and “environment” is also semi-permeable membrane of communication. Hardening this boundary to achieve security, or invulnerability, will actually reduce the communication process necessary for resilience, responsiveness and flexibility. It leads to the attempt to achieve “invulnerability” in an attempt control others by escaping from being controlled oneself. It reduces the ability to respond and thus finishes by creating irresponsible individuals, organizations and projects.

By sharing this dream with others, through a "dreaming circle" the dream becomes a collective dream of the project team.

Read all about the courses Ecovillage Brabant had planned in december 2011.