Project Managers Should Change from Being Clever to Being Smart
Years ago, Alibaba intended to settle in Shanghai, but it came across objections from different departments in Shanghai. Xu Kuangdi, former Mayor of Shanghai, has made the following comments about this, “Due to being too clever instead of being wise, we lost the business opportunity to Zhejiang.” What he said is worth our careful reflection.
Among all the figures in The Dream Of Red Mansions, Wang Xifeng is notably clever, so clever that some management experts takes her as example to study and some even call her “capable CEO in Jia household”. However, Cao Xueqin described her this way, “All your clever calculations and intrigues brought nothing but your doom.” Clever managers are common around us, but unfortunately, they always suffer from doomed destiny like Wang Xifeng.
Compared with clever ones, smart managers hold more systematic view of development and more profound insight. Clever managers tend to be absorbed in partial and immediate interests, which may lead to self-satisfaction and thus limit their vision. Over-pursuit of short-term benefits will result in “picking up the sesame seeds but overlook the watermelons (which means concentrating on trivial matters but neglect the important ones).” Projects are temporary, but they will have lasting value and influence. Projects are partial, but the influence they have on enterprises and the stakeholders involved are extensive. As nobody is willing to be cheated or cooperate with selfish people, over-clever project managers are likely to turn temporary projects into one-off deal, turn the long-term business market into unstable guerrilla zones, and turn friends into opponents who knows them well.
Compared with clever ones, smart managers rely more on open strategies and value contribution. They attach importance to credit and respect rules. It occurs that sometimes in domestic market, some so-called clever people exploit the advantage of the policy or make fool of partners. In international market, we often hear the following self-righteous judgments as “The Africans are stupid”, “The Germans are stubborn”, etc. Conspiracies (Tricks) will be exposed sooner or later. Credit and reputation will be hard to be rebuilt once broken. Tricks are effective but limited as no extraordinary achievements are based on tricks. Projects, enterprises or places in the charge of such clever people will end up like “a flash in the pan”. Their destiny will be like that described in Kong Shangren’s The Peach Blossom Fan, “He was seen to have built luxury houses, to have entertained his guests, and to have ended up in collapse”.
It’s hard for managers to turn clever managers into smart ones. Being clever instead of being smart originates not only from human weakness of pursuing immediate interests but also from the following mechanism limitations, for example, projects are temporary; PMBOK Guide contains clear scope management. It’s difficult to overcome human weakness but it’s relatively easy to deal with mechanism problems as human behaviors tend to be influenced by mechanisms that have implications of human concern.
The smart project governance mechanism should study from Zeng Guofan, a politician and strategist in Chinese history. He promoted “building a strong military camp and fight in a stupid way”. “Building a strong military camp” means doing things step by step to develop enterprises’ core competitiveness. “Fight in a stupid way” means focusing on overall benefits and long-term development to achieve win-win and to establish enterprises’ reputation by paying attention to credit and respecting rules. Core competitiveness will offer us values necessary to stakeholders while reputation will bring us cooperation willingness. Objective values and subjective willingness are prerequisite for project and enterprise success.
As a saying goes, “Magic sword has no edge; great artwork need no work”, development of China and the world calls for more smart project managers instead of clever ones.
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