Sunday, 29 May 2011

How Project Management and Shamanism are similar


I reached for my mobile and flipped it to silent mode before I was even aware of the phone in my hand or that I was awake. Just then a pale luminous light projected from the phone displaying a long string of numbers that hinted at some far off corner in the US.

“Hallo,” the man on the other end of the phone did not bother to pause for breath. “Listen Shimon, I need to talk to you about this ting at work that you do... What do you call it? Oh yah, Project Management. You see I figured it out... what you do is like being a Shaman!”

There was a long pause. I slipped out of bed and went downstairs.

“Hang on a second Rabbi,” I whispered as I poured a glass of milk, shut the fridge and sat down on the sofa.

“You recognize my voice, of course no? It's Rabbi Bar-zel Arieh Tzion” he sounded rather excited and eager to share his latest epiphany. “Now ask me why Project Managers are like Shamans!”

“I'd really rather not,” it was difficult to keep the tiredness out of my voice and I barely stifled a yawn. “Can't you just email it to email it to me and I'll read it later this week?”

“Now, now Shimon, calm down.” He cleared his throat and started reading from what sounded like a list. “First of all there is becoming a shaman, did you set out to become a Project Manager?”

“No, I fell in to it but that is rather common in my industry.”

“Acha! You see it is like a calling, the Path find you rather than the other way around.” I could hear the rustle of beard against receiver. “Sure some people want to become shamans but like Project Managers for many people project management was not their chosen path.”

“OK,” I decided to play along for a bit to see how many holes I poke in his theory. “What about the initiation ceremonies of a shaman? The disintegration and reintegration experiences? I don't have any memories of being eaten alive, spat out and regrown to gain power over spirits.”

“Really?” The Rabbi sounded piqued. “Have you forgotten your first few projects? That feeling of going for a review, having your presentation taken to pieces and the reviewers metaphorically ripping it to shreds?”

“Uh,” vague and uncomfortable memories of my first project started drifting back. “Perhaps Rabbi, but that was metaphorical.”

“And you think that a shaman's initiation is all about the physical?” He laughed and beat me to my next question. “So now I bet you're thinking that Shamans go on otherworldly journeys and Project Managers do not, yah?”

“Correct.” I drained my glass of milk and tried to work out how the Rabbi knew so much about my Project Management experiences.

“Well,” he said with such smugness that I would have punched him had he been standing over me. “How do you think that it looks to the designers that you work with? You go for strange gatherings with people from other departments which to your team are considered like hostile tribes. Then when you visit colleagues and clients at other sites you may as well be going on a otherworldly journey to some places that exists only in legend and folk-tale.”

“I hardly think that journeys to other departments and customer sites in any way resemble an otherworldly journey that a shaman might experience.” My tone must have become rather accusatory and he softened his in turn.

“Shimon, listen it's just a theory. Please bear with me for just a bit longer. Project Managers do many things in a corporation that a shaman does in a tribe, you just need to look at it in a different way. Shamans heal and exorcise illness, Project Managers run projects to fix problems. Shamans divine the future through things like casting bones and Project Managers try see the future through things like project plans and GANTT charts. Shamans escort the spirits of those who have passed on to the afterlife and Project Managers run change projects helping the organization move from one way of life to the next.” He stroked his beard and took a sip. Anticipating my desire to speak he said: “Now ask me your question.”

“Very well,” I responded saving my best argument to last. “What about contacting spirits? And if you think that speaking to upper management is in any way like a shaman contacting spirits for guidance then I don't buy that argument. Upper management are flesh and blood just like the rest of us even if they think that they are somehow different.”

“You don't believe that Project Managers speak to spirits?” He sounded almost shocked, except for his soft mocking laughter.

“No,” I replied firmly, switched off the phone and threw it on the floor.

“So who do you think that you are talking to now Shimon?” his voice carried quietly from across the darkened room. I sat frozen in terror for several minutes before there was sufficient circulation in my arm to switch on the light. The room was empty and on the floor my phone was flashing with the message '1 missed call'.