Can our fears make us better Project Managers?

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
– Measure for Measure

My least favorite thing on the planet are horror movies.
I think the first time I saw a horror movie, I was about 12.  I won’t tell you what the movie was – but it involved the standard box set of horror movie cliches: a lot of blood, some undead, and of course the supernatural.  I learned that horror was never going to be my favorite film genre.

The truth is my imagination is far too good to let me leave a horror movie in the theatre or on my television screen.  It slips between my imagination and my reality and creates fear behind doors, curtains or poorly lit areas.

My imagination works overtime on projects as well – which can be good and bad.  According to author Karen Thompson Walker there might a use for my fears.
They might also help with risk management.  In a TED Talk she gave in June of 2012, she explained her unique way of thinking about fear.

I took away two key points from her talk:

  1. Our fears may be everyday clairvoyance
    Instead of rationalizing away all of the potential things we ‘fear’ might occur – we should use them.  Our fears, or risks, to use a more familiar term, might be helping us prepare ourselves for the ‘worst’.

    When we ask ourselves, what will happen next?  We could use the same question to help plan our projects, walking through our plan to review the risks.  What we fear may happen may help us devise a mitigation strategy to address them. 

  2. We shouldn’t let our fears drive us to make bad decisions.  
    The story Walker shares with us illustrates how fear can be our worst enemy when we let it overwhelm our thinking.  Fears should be considered and used to arm ourselves, rather than let them drive the decision-making.  In the end, we learn that what we avoid out of fear could be an opportunity.

I enjoyed the talk because it helped me consider another way to think about risk and fear: as tools to help me achieve my project objectives by uncovering the sinkholes along the way.  Have you used an unusual method to find new risks on new projects?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.


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