When I’m not dedicating my time to a large scale program, I’m strumming away on my guitar, banging on the piano keys, and programming the drums. I have gone from playing in front of thousands to helping thousands through their business transformation as a management consultant. The great thing is that there’s a similar process to finding harmony for both.
Writing a song track requires a lot of give and take. I sit down with a melody, a guitar riff, or a simple drum beat I’ve had in my head throughout the day and I lay it down as best I remember it and then build on improvisation. Then boom, I hit a wall.
There are two routes to travel at this point. I can continue to hack at it, getting frustrated at my lack of progress, or I can step away and let my brain rest and recharge.
Stepping Back for a Clearer View
When I come back after some time away, whether it be hours or the next day, I find that I can better see the gaps, figure out the direction I want it to go, and clarify what I need to do to improve. I come back with a better plan that is still built off the foundation of my original vision for the song.
Similarly in consulting, sometimes we get so mired in a project that we don’t come up for air to see how we can course correct. Simply backing up and removing yourself from the details for a spell can be what it takes to move forward with even better results. Once you’ve stepped back, you can then reset your original approach, review the challenges to understand where you’ve gotten off track, and then renew your plan for success.
As you know, a project rarely goes exactly as planned and, as the saying goes, no plan survives first contact with reality. Even with the best intentions, a list of priorities, and a timeline for when team members will complete each task, there are still processes that can experience dissonance. And when you hit one too many roadblocks, the instinct is to react and keep course-correcting and firefighting that can often get the best of you and cause more chaos. It’s at these moments that sometimes you have to step back so you can re-focus on the complete arrangement and, in the spirit of music—hear the orchestration—so you can move forward to complete your composition.
Using our musical metaphor, maybe I’m excited about where a song is headed, but once I really review where I am, I see I’m missing a pre-chorus and a bridge and the original intro is too busy and no longer flows with the hook. Now that I know where to focus, I lay something down that is more ambient and open. It’s sounding better already.
If you’re looking at your list of tasks for a project and are questioning why a certain task got off track, ask yourself what were the drivers? Was the cadence not frequent enough? Should there have been more follow-ups? Was the resource assigned not getting the assistance they needed? Were my resources misaligned?
Whether you’re creating music or managing your role on a project, it’s important to know your weaknesses and allow others to help.
I find my weakness is in programming drums. I am not an expert drummer, so I also collaborate with an expert in drums or programming. This helps free my time to continue leveraging my strengths while using their creativity and perspective to open new doors and provide me with what I need.
If your project is reaching a plateau, consider whether bringing in more people with different strengths could be beneficial. If a given resource is struggling, is there a better way to shape the process to fit their skillset? Is there another subject matter expert that could help?
How a project looks at the start will likely be a bit different from how it shapes up. Start with the meat and potatoes. What you know.
As you create a more collaborative process, making sure you’ve got the right brains on the team, you can refine the timeline and processes to ensure that information flows and you’ve got your “song” playing smoothly.
It’s okay if your original plan did not execute in the way you thought it would. And it’s ok to come back with an improved approach to get the plan back on track if you’ve uncovered data that gives more context to the situation or you’ve found a better structure that leaves a blueprint for future endeavors.
Remember, the songs you hear your favorite bands play weren’t created in an hour or a month for that matter. They’re the result of careful iterations that leverage an original process by adapting and improving upon it to create melodious harmony. The same can be done for your project if you’re willing to look at it from a different perspective.