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Jul 19, 2011

I have to tell you, I greatly enjoyed reading Peter Sims' book Little Bets and talking with him over the phone. Frankly, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. I expected it to be a book about innovation, and it is. But there are so many lessons in it that apply to all of us who desire to deliver projects and lead teams.

In this special premium edition, I want to share some coaching for you based on lessons from Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

First, the big idea of the book is to stop trying to hit the home run, to figure it all out up front, to completely understand everything before you take the first step. Some of those who seem to make success seem effortless start small and iterate instead of trying to get it all correct from the start.

One of the objections I often hear about project management is that it presupposes that you can figure out everything up front and then you execute against that plan. That's why project management doesn't work, according to that mindset. You can't know everything up front, so that's why we can't do project management! PMI has a different take on that, interestingly. In the PMBOK Guide there are references to progressive elaboration or rolling wave planning. Rolling wave planning means that we can't know everything up front. We must do our best job of plotting a course, setting a baseline for how we think the project will go. But it won't go that way! Things will change, which is why we must progressively elaborate.

When it comes to the big project you have weighing on your shoulders, is there a way you could take smaller steps? In the interview we talked about the term of smallifying--chunking down the project into smaller pieces. Keeping our scope as small as possible and iterating incrementally instead of trying to do it all in one project is a formula for increased likelihood of success, which is why agile methodologies continue to gain in popularity.

What do you need to smallify? What have you been procrastinating that you could take a first step? Take that first small step. The PMI concept of decomposition is directly aligned with Peter Sims' recommendation to break things down into smaller pieces to improve your ability to deliver successfully.

Second, do you recall my discussion with Peter about the Illusion of Rationality? It's easy for project managers and leaders to fall into this trap. "In the plan we trust!" is the mindset, and if the plan is thick enough, pretty enough, and rationally articulated, then we must be OK. Or not.

It's critical we ask if we've spent enough time with those who we're delivering for? Do we really understand their issues or is this a Field of Dreams project: we will build it and they will come! As Peter suggested, do we know that we're solving the right problem? Could we prototype or do a test run instead of going all in? Beware of Planning as PR, where comfort is taken because a plan exists, regardless of how close the plan aligns with reality. Remember: reality always wins!

Third, remember Peter's recurring phrase that we need to "fail quickly to learn fast." Man, those words are easy to say. Living them in the real world can be more challenging.

Author Bob Sutton suggests you can tell a lot about a leader by how they react when things go wrong. How do you react? Are we tempted to start pointing fingers or coming up with excuses? Is there more effort in finding the "fall guy" instead of the way to avoid the problem in the future? You and I need to be willing to be imperfect, something that is evidently clear to me now, but when I was a budding leader in my late twenties and early thirties was a foreign concept. I thought I had to be bullet proof—no chinks in the armor.

Life has a way of making it clear that we are not perfect, and demanding near perfection of yourself, or your team, or in your plan is a fool's game. Peter recommended that you be willing to put yourself out there--take a small risk. You and I will likely have far more regrets at the end of our life and career about the risks we didn't take than those we did.

Be willing to try and then learn from it. Stretch yourself. What is something that you've been holding back on because of concern that you won't be successful? Why not give it a try?

Finally, strive to develop what Peter referred to as the Growth Mindset. It's easy to fall into the Fixed Mindset. The book does a great job of laying out the difference and I've heard enough about this concept that I'm going to pursue the author who did the research behind it. The Growth Mindset fuels us to keep learning, including learning from mistakes. It assumes that we will make those mistakes but can stretch ourselves to grow from them. I know too many people that, as they age, the fall into the rut of living off of what they already know instead of stretching to learn the new.

And remember Peter's comments about how to develop a growth mindset in the people around you: praise effort, not just achievements. Instead of “good job” or “you're so smart”, make sure to praise those around you with specifics about their efforts, which as “You put a lot of work into this report and it paid off! Great job!” I'm working on implementing this at work, with coaching clients, and at home.

Are you looking for a good book to stretch your mind and help you lead and deliver? I wholeheartedly recommend Peter Sims' book Little Bets. I couldn't put it down and trust you'll find the same hunger for what he's serving up.

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One last thing.... It's only July and our next Leadership Fast Track isn't until next year. However, budget talks fire up in the coming weeks for many companies and I would love to have you in next year's program. We are having some extremely engaging discussions in this year's program, helping us all get better at leading and delivering. I'd love to have you in next year's program. Send me any questions that you have about next year's Leadership Fast Track Program.

Well, thank you for being a premium subscriber to The People and Projects Podcast! Please let me know what questions you have and if there's anything I can do to help you lead and deliver. Thank you for joining me for this premium episode of The People and Projects Podcast! Have a great week!

Total Duration 6:47

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