One of the areas I explore when working with my clients is what they see in the landscape of their work. Reality is so multifaceted that we have to be selective about what we see.
For example, when driving on a busy road, we are scanning for the main pieces of evidence and may be unaware of the beauty of the scenery through which we are driving. I’ve found that when engaging with a new project, most project managers ‘see’ documents, tasks, and process.
For example, when you look at the picture below, what do you see?
Some see one thing, others another. Some people see a young woman looking away; others see an old hag looking down.
If you saw this picture before, maybe someone had explained it to you. You can shift between seeing one image and another.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about then look at the almost-horizontal line at the bottom: it’s the neck-band of the young woman and the mouth of the hag. Got it?… OK…
Gestalt psychology demonstrates with images such as this that the human brain makes sense of reality more by interpreting whole patterns than individual elements. This ability for the brain to make selective conclusions from reality has a consequence in our performance. We tend to focus on certain matters in the foreground of our consciousness while filtering out a lot of other detail. Such detail may not fit the structure we recognize, so we put it into the background. In this way, we all approach reality with certain frames of reference.
Our research tends to confirm, for example, that not all project managers have the same frame of reference. Some see data, see evidence, see indicators that others do not see. This kind of selection is not merely a product of personality or taste. It is more to do with our theories of what matters, that we bring to reality. For this reason, our frames of reference are vital. It seems that some of us have been blind to some quite critical data.
What the Positive Outlier Sees
The data our brains notice seems to matter to our performance. In our research, we began to see a clear frame of reference for the few high-performing project managers, what I am now calling the positive outliers, that is different from the rest. The positive outliers get extraordinary results because they focus on and prioritize different things.
Much of that critical information is largely in the area of people and relationships, of stakeholders and communication. For all too many project managers, people, relationships and conversation are all just a distraction; such things just slow them down.
And yet the evidence is there: higher performers have a leaning to relationships: a focus on exploring people and relationships.
So let me ask you: when you look at your work priorities today, what do you see? Please leave your comment below.
Gestalt psychology: Our own research
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