Why Two Thirds of Projects Fail: a New Philosophical Lens

How did I do it?
Most of us what to have an impact. Whether we think of it as legacy, making a dent in the universe, changing the world, or making things better, we want our lives to matter. How do we go about identifying the best opportunities to make an impact?

Since we do expend considerable energy in our job, one ready answer, or perhaps a better question is — how to we work in such a way that makes an impact?

We also know that the reason why simple rules produce better decisions is they are “shortcut strategies that save time and effort by focusing our attention and simplifying the way we process information.”

But we also know that simplicity requires a clear understanding of what and who creates value. Our choices in what to pursue however, should be grounded by some method to become more effective.

Modern conversations on leadership have us talk about purpose on one hand and power on the other. “While our purpose shows us out priorities in life,” says William E. Smith, Ph.D. “And our power reveals our capacity to achieve the ends we seek, our leadership shows us how we lead our lives — i.e. how we integrate our purpose and power into the way in which we engage with others and with our world in the situations we face.”

In The Creative Power: Transforming Ourselves, Our Organizations, and Our World, Smith presents a new philosophical lens for helping leaders see the advantages of a more holistic approach to improving organizations that builds on understanding the dynamic relationships between individuals, organizations and their environments.

He introduces appreciation, influence and control (AIC) — a simple and natural model that can help us answer the question:

What does it take for each of us to conduct our life and work so that by doing what we do and being who we are we automatically contribute to the common good?

Says Smith:

Just as our concept of power has been shifting to include more influence and appreciation, so has our concept of leadership shifted:

  1. from a focus on the individual who possesses a certain specific set of resources, skills and attitudes (the control perspective)
  2. to a concept of shared or democratic leadership (the influence perspective) and,
  3. most recently, to a concept of leadership as a function everyone can perform by linking themselves to others and their world (the appreciative perspective)

It is not difficult, then, to see that our preference for power very much affects our approach to the way we lead our lives, the way we relate to others and the way we relate to our world.

A leader who is more appreciative is more open, idealistic and holistic. We call that leader spiritual. A leader who emphasizes influence, i.e. relationships, we call charismatic; and a leader who emphasizes control, i.e. focusing on getting things done, we call pragmatic. All of us have components of all three, but our leadership style is the relative emphasis we give to each of the three.

Where did AIC originate?

Says Smith:

AIC grew out of my personal search for an explanation of what seemed to be an accidental example of high performance in my first full-time job as an airport manager. I was working for British Overseas Airlines and made Rome the best-performing airport network in six months—without the power of control to tell people what to do and without spending any extra funds. Neither I nor anyone else in the airline was able to explain the results.

[…] Through a five-year program of action research [at the Wharton Graduate School of Business] I finally discovered a set of naturally occurring power relationships that accounted for high levels of achievement and could explain the achievement in Rome.

I called these three power relationships—appreciation, influence and control—AIC. When leaders and organizations pay equal attention to these powers the results they receive go exponentially beyond their expectations. It was, especially, the addition of the idea of appreciation—taking into account all those variables that affect your performance but that you cannot influence or control—that accounted for the dramatic change.

Below is a short video narrative of the key inflection points that led to the research and its applications.

When we gain a better understanding of these relationships, we can become more effective leaders.

If you're curious about how this applies to you and your situation, complete a simple (and free) 5-minute exercise here.



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