I am about to offend you.
Do you have all of the data, information, knowledge, and wisdom you need to make your project decisions? Are you missing something? In a way, I’m asking what could be interpreted as a very offensive question: “are you ignorant”?
But I’m using ignorance in its truest sense – lacking the proper knowledge or information.
Happy New Year! I certainly don’t mean to offend. I’m actually sharing a very interesting article from BBC Future, which discusses the science of agnotology. This is the science and study of ‘culturally induced ignorance’ such as when the tobacco industry clouded the science around tobacco and lung cancer so that people remained ignorant of the connection.
The story features Robert Proctor, a science historian who has studied the ‘spread of ignorance’. Per the article:
“Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth.
Consider climate change as an example. “The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it’s over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts,” says Proctor.”
(Blogger’s Note: the photo associated with this post actually comes from a form of social expression in Australia in which hundreds literally buried their heads in the sand on Bondi Beach to mock Prime Minster Tony Abbott on his denial view of climate change science)
The connection to us as project, program, and portfolio managers, of course, is that whatever our political beliefs, we cannot tolerate (or perhaps put more realistically, afford) to be ignorant. We have to be connected – as connected as possible – to the facts, whether they be the latest report from a subcontractor, the budget results, or, yes, climate change. Even if you disagree with the science or are dubious about the way in which it is presented, understand the way in which others are processing the information, and take that as a fact – as information – as knowledge.
In any case, have a look at the article – it’s fascinating to learn about a whole science dedicated to the idea of what we don’t know and why we don’t know it.
Learning about what we don’t know and why – and even more importantly, learning how we can prevent our own ignorance – is simply best-practice project management.
There’s actually an assessment tool to check on your level of awareness on sustainability issues in your projects, programs, and portfolios, called The Sustainability Wheel™ in our new book, “Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success“. Check it out (both the book and the assessment tool).
Using the Sustainability Radar™ from our tool, you can find out if you are a Fearless Leader, or (gasp) an Efficient Bamboozler, or one of dozens of other types. And more importantly, there is coaching to help reverse any gaps.
Check out Sustainability Radar™ in our new book.
With that, we’d like to wish you an Agnotologically Correct Happy New Year!
The following quote comes from a popular business magazine (to be revealed later in this post):
“as customers and other stakeholders increasingly express interest in sustainably produced products, …organizations are paying more attention to the big picture”
Yes. That’s the point of our whole book – Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success.
Ha! Indeed, our book even features a forest on its cover! Or are those trees? Well…in fact it really comes down to that final word – success. What is success? If success is more than a quarter-to-quarter affair, then getting the organization, importantly including the project managers, on board regarding longer-term viewpoints, is going to be critical.
Here are some examples.
See the connection to project management? It’s multi-faceted. In some cases, it’s direct, such as Carillion’s case which is actually making this part of their project compliance process. In some cases it’s a project “engine”, such as the case with Procter & Gamble; you don’t completely revamp the supply chain without launching a gaggle of projects – all of which will need sustainably-minded project managers.
Another thing to note: these companies are not Ben & Jerry’s or Patagonia, or Helen’s Whole Wheat Kelp Flakes… they are big MNCs (Multi-National Corporations) which have bought into the principles of sustainability not (only) due to a sense of what’s right, but because it makes good business sense (cents).
Consider your company. What sustainability goals have they set? How “outside the box”, how “long-term”, how “holistically” do they think? Can you as a project manager be a change agent to prod them along? Perhaps. After all, projects are indeed about change. Oh. And by the way, did we tell you where the article came from? Well, it comes from the current (December 2015) issue of PM Network magazine, the monthly journal of the Project Management Institute!
Working with stakeholders of various backgrounds… with varying degrees of buy-in –and bones to pick with you as well as each other… getting them all to focus on a common goal.
Sound like project management?
Sure does. That’s why this article posted just a few days ago caught my attention. That stakeholder theme drew me in – as well as the fact that it was using the COP21 meetings in Paris as the context.
The article opens: “The business community is well-represented at the United Nations climate summit underway in Paris — and it will be much more engaged in finding positive solutions than ever before.”
Brief history lesson here:
1n 1992: Five thousand delegates at the first climate summit in Rio, 13 people — were representing the business sector in that first meeting. Why? Business was considered the cause of all evil and was seen as an enemy. Moving forward to 2015, to COP21 in Paris, and what do you have?
“More than 1,000 business representatives will be in Paris and most will be supportive of climate action, says Edward Cameron, who represents We Mean Business, a nonprofit coalition that is working with companies on climate change.”
That’s quite a change! And here comes the other project management-y piece to this story. It doesn’t take too much imagination to conclude that 1,000 businesses focused on climate change are going to be launching tens of thousands of projects geared to make climate-change-oriented (and of course profit oriented!) goals. Goals that used to be considered at odds with each other, and now, by orders of magnitude, considered to be quite aligned.
As we said in our first book (Green Project Management, which, by the way, has a cover which features a tree that yields paper money) and now our second book (Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success), the two endeavors of social and planetary “good” and making money are not enemies.
They’re not at odds with each other at all – rather, they are complementary and (for lack of a better term) synergistic.
It’s yet to be seen if the stakeholders of COP21 can come up with an agreement – after all, another interest group represented is government – but we see good news in the fact that business is participating not as an enemy but as a partner; and we hope that the project management community recognizes this partnership and the focus on sustainability not as a threat or a set of new constraints but rather a whole new set of opportunities.
So we would argue that business and sustainability are not friends, nor enemies, nor frenemies, but rather partners. And although climate change presents a very real threat, the solutions that will be brought to bear will require project managers in vast quantities. That being the case, we should be thinking about the partnerships we can build as PMs to make these solutions reality.
In the November issue of PM Network, Page 50 contains our favorite story. It’s about a green-by-definition project. What’s that? Well, in our first book, Green Project Management, we covered a spectrum of green, from projects which focus on ‘sustainability’ in its purest sense, including (we mention this by name) an effort to save a species.
The spectrum is mentioned again in our second book, “Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success”.
But back to PM Network. Indeed, the article, “A Wild Ride” starts with some sobering facts. Earth’s wild vertebrae population has been halved between 1970 and 2010. Cut in half. 41% of amphibian, and 26% of mammal species are threatened with extinction.
But there is hope, and in many cases it comes with the aspects of technology and project management focused on the problem – and thus, the green-by-definition projects that are featured. Rather than a whole bunch of text, we summarized three of the interesting project efforts for you and encourage you to read the entire article.
So you can see the intersection of PM and sustainability at its most fundamental root with this article. And we hope, like us, you are rooting for the recovery of these endangered species.
We encourage you to visit the sites of the organizations involved in these worthy efforts: