The Mt Baker Project Management Institute chapter asked me to present on The Other Side of Risk. That was great for me for two reasons – a good reason to visit our grandkids near Bellingham (home of the Mt Baker chapter), and a push for me to continue to clarify what I mean by The Other Side of Risk. I have my new blog and a good gut feel for what I’m trying to say, but how to clearly present it in 50 minutes to a group of peers? Was I ready for that? I liked how the presentation turned out on paper, but in the end, I didn’t find out what my peers thought. On the other hand, it turned out to be a valuable and rewarding journey.
Wisely, the Mt Baker chapter cancelled its meeting. The northwest finally unveiled summer in all its glory last week. Sunshine, breezy, and 80 degrees won out over a room with no windows, rubber chicken, and a novice guest speaker. Risk mitigation triggered on Saturday and I got an email from the Chapter about the meeting cancellation. That was OK because Marcia and I had a great drive and I had a captive audience to rehearse my talk. My audience was not only captive, but insightful. Over Taco Del Mar burritos at the halfway point we had a long discussion about my three key topics – balance, perfection, and the journey. Marcia thoughtfully pointed out that I was basing my whole approach to better project management on three things that are about constant searching and adjustment rather than a final solution. Not exactly in keeping with the goal oriented nature of project management; but that was exactly my point. Always the non-conformist, she observed.
We went on to have a nice two day visit with my son’s family. Our three granddaughters – 7, 5, and 1.5 – kept us engaged with park walks, food, and general giggling. Sunday afternoon before the trip back, we decided to go to Lake Padden for a windsurfing outing. It was hot and breezy. Perfect. My son and I grew up windsurfing together. Before firefighting and family, he spent about six years as a semi-professional windsurfer living and teaching at windsurf Meccas like Hood River (The Gorge), Maui, Baja, and the Caribbean. He worked at being one of the best and got pretty close. I learned a lot about persistence, courage, and the less material side of life from my son. I learned a little about windsurfing, too.
In the past few years, our trips together to The Gorge dwindled as other priorities took precedence. Russ hadn’t been windsurfing in a couple of years. He has a standup paddle board that doubles as a simple windsurfer that hadn’t had its maiden voyage with a sail yet. It was time.
So, there I was, sailing back and forth on Lake Padden, thinking about balance, perfection, and the journey. Windsurfing has always been a source of analogies for me, and here was another one. When I teach people to windsurf (over the past 10 years volunteering at Camp Sealth I’ve probably taught about 500), with a receptive group I sometimes talk about windsurfing representing a philosophy of life. There you are, perched between life’s energy and opportunities (the wind) and life’s tendency to wrap you up in all your worries and needs (the water). As life goes on, the more the wind blows with opportunity and the more the water swells up with needs to grab you. Your windsurfing skills are your ability to harness the energy of life to glide over life’s needs and worries. If you get it right, your attitude and skills use the water and the wind together to go fast, turn smoothly, and enjoy the ride.
Applying balance, perfection, and the journey to windsurfing put another facet in my analogy. Windsurfing is fully about the journey as your goal is to finish back in the place you started, richer for the experience. The benefits realized are the experience and how that adds to your skill, memories, strength, and well being. These things keep us going, even on the hard days. We want to be richer from our experiences on projects, too.
Balance and perfection go together in windsurfing as finding the perfect balance of all your windsurfing parts with the wind and water is your constant focus. The perfect outcome you are after is that perfect balance at any point in time so that you are efficient, fast, and effective (and maybe stylish) on your tacks and turns. Balance starts with you on your board to keep your board flat on the water and you out of the water. It’s the solid foundation that gets you going. Next, you balance the force created by the wind on your sails with the resistance created by your board in the water. This balance moves you forward rather than sliding sideways or twisting in circles. Enough wind and a perfect balance of forces and you can commit yourself by hooking into the harness lines and leaning your entire weight into the force of the wind and the resistance of the board on the water. The perfect balance supports you and makes you part of the windsurfer. Your board leaps onto a plane, your sail becomes almost weightless in your hands, and you fly across the water. Every shift of the wind and swell on the water require adjustments – feet and hips and shoulders and head, board angle, sail position, and weight in the harness – to maintain your perfect balance. With momentum and attention ahead, your adjustments are anticipated and small. You don’t slow down. You are fully engaged, focused, and responsive. You are committed from each tack from A to B and each jibe around B back to A.
We want our projects to be like this – good journeys seeking perfect balance. Part of me wants to launch into all the project management examples that bring the analogy home. But, that would be too focused on the end result. So, let me leave you with this windsurfing vision for your journey. Think about how it applies to your projects. There will be more posts and opportunities to explore balance, perfection, and the journey in coming weeks.
Thanks for reading.
Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012