Sometimes we are distracted from our goals by the stress of the moment. Distractions can take our eyes off the outcomes we want from our projects. After stress, we may take our next step away from stress instead of toward our goal. Do this enough, and you get lost. What can we do to keep from losing our way?
I heard an interesting Radio Lab on NPR today about how we find our way. A brief segment of the show caught my “Other Side of Risk” antenna. The hosts interviewed Dr. Lera Boroditsky, a professor at Stanford who studies how language shapes thought and behavior. She described an Australian Aboriginal community, Pormpuraaw, whose language emphasized spatial orientation. When people in Pormpuraaw greet one another, they say “Where are you going?” The answer is always something like “North northeast in the middle direction.” There are about 80 phrases in Pormpuraawan that describe spatial orientation and direction. Pormpuraawans always pay attention to their spatial orientation and how to get where they want to go. This seemed unusual, but according to Dr. Boroditsky, about one third of the world’s 7,000 languages are deeply rooted in spatial orientation. English isn’t one of them.
What was particularly interesting in Lera’s story was how her lack of spatial awareness affected her relationships with the Pormpuraawans, and how it changed. The Pormpuraawans didn’t think much of her at first. She couldn’t articulate where she was going. ‘Not too bright, that Lera…’ But after about a week, she said that things changed. One day, after constantly having to think about and pay attention to where she was and where she was going in very precise spatial references, she noticed that there was sort of a new window in her thinking. The new window showed her as a red dot on a map of her landscape with north/south/east/west orientation. Like a mental navigation app. She thought that this was odd, but sharing her new phenomenon with one of the Pormpuraawans, he said ‘of course, how else would you do it?’
If we want to stay on the path to perfect outcomes on our projects, maybe we need to constantly orient our language and talk toward them. According to Dr. Boroditsky, our thinking is influenced by our language. If we talk about our project and tasks in terms of the outcomes we expect, then we are more likely to do things that contribute to achieving them. If we get wrapped up in controlling scope and solving immediate problems, we may lose the sense of direction that will lead us to the outcomes sought. We need that window in our brain that comes from paying attention to where we are in terms of where we want to go, and from shaping our language around our goal.
So, if we want to ensure that our project team is taking actions every day that move us toward the outcomes we want to achieve, then we need to express what we are doing now in terms of where we want to go. We have to talk the talk so that we walk the talk. Thanks, Lera.
Thanks for reading.
Copyright 2013 Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”