How can project managers avoid the pressure to conform

If you are a project manager looking for tips on how to be original and innovative by pushing the boundaries and avoiding the pressures to conform, you’ll want to read further.

Darren Aronofsky, the filmmaker of movies such as The Wrestler and Pi, delivers some great advice. “The best work always comes from pushing the edge.” He recounts a situation where you put ten people in a room to choose an ice cream flavor. His theory is vanilla will always be the most frequently picked because there is constant pressure to conform (vanilla compromise). Because of this, originality only happens at the edges, hence his advice.

As a project manager, originality may be frowned upon. You are supposed to be a leader who represents an organization. Your example flows top-down to the team members. You lead by example. Therefore, you are expected to fall in line with company policy.

You are the person that is supposed to keep your team members from falling off the edge when they approach it. You are the one creating this edge and boundary line. You are the one who should be coming to the vanilla consensus. Buck the trend.

As Jamie Wheal, the Executive Director of Flow Genome Project writes “dress straight to infiltrate.” The message being blend in on the outside yet inject some originality into the situation. Be a person that represents the organization while maintaining that edge. Have the polished corporate look with a rebel mentality.

Meetings are a great place to start because the vanilla compromise is often the outcome. Each person has their idea of which direction the project should take next. However, when the meeting adjourns, the direction looks eerily similar to the company line.

How can project managers avoid these generic outcomes and start to bring some innovation to the table?

 1. Always end on a high note

My favorite show of all time is Seinfeld. In one episode, George begins leaving the room on a high note. Any time a joke he makes gets a laugh, he leaves the room. Here is some dialogue from the episode:

“George: I had ‘em, Jerry. They loved me.

Jerry: And then?

George: I lost ‘em. I can usually come up with one good comment during a meeting, but by the end, it’s buried under a pile of gaffes and bad puns.

Jerry: Showmanship, George. When you hit that high note, say goodnight and walk off.”

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