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Unconditional Project-Rearing

by Brett Thompson, Reactive / September 9, 2014

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

Unconditional Project Rearing

This year I became a parent for the first time, learning very quickly some of those lessons life waits until now to share.

Any parent knows these lessons – namely:

  • The true meaning of spare time.
  • The importance of routine.
  • The value of un-broken sleep.

Like any new thing, these lessons come with literature, and like many new parents I spent a great deal of time reading up, thirsty for any bit of information I could find. It was one particular book on a more unconventional approach to parenting, however, that challenged me to consider its lessons on an entirely different level. The book was called Unconditional Parenting.  And author Alfie Kohn promised on the cover a provocative challenge to the conventional wisdom about discipline. Published in 2005, it divisively encouraged parents to move away from the traditional model of punishment and reward, (‘conditional parenting’) to a more collaborative approach of teaching through love and reason (‘unconditional parenting’). Central to Kohn’s argument was a problem he found in most parenting books that begin with the question “How can we get kids to do what they’re told?” and then proceeds to offer techniques for controlling them.

Holding a mirror to the agency-client dynamic, it made me reflect on those moments when communication failed. This new outlook on parenting made me think – what if it was conditional processes that were to blame for agency-client failures? Would projects run smoother if they were managed unconditionally?

At its simplest was an observation that relationships – of any kind – are at their most ineffective when reliant
on conditions, be they incentive or penalty. And it is no secret that conventional project management techniques can be weighed down with conditions intended to contain and control.

There are many techniques for managing digital projects, each of which have their merits and all of which would benefit from a more unconditional approach to the terms, conditions and human interactions that make them work most effectively. Be they governed by waterfall or agile methodologies, Unconditional Project-Rearing asks all parties in a project to consider the whole when reviewing the parts that make it up. This is a bigger-picture view that can often get lost in the day to day management of the complexities of digital.

6 Steps to Unconditional Project-Rearing:

  • Be Reflective “The errors hardest to condone, in other people are one’s own” – Piet Hein
    Be introspective and willing to give yourselves a hard time, both as agency and as client. The qualities that particularly irritate some people about others turn out to be unwelcome reminders of one’s own least appealing character traits. This is something particularly timely to remember when communication breaks down and relationships are challenged during high-pressure periods.
  • Reconsider your requests.
    Perhaps when your agency or your client does not do what you are demanding, the obstacle is not with them but with what you are demanding. Before searching for a new method to convince someone to do something, we should all first take the time to evaluate the value or necessity of that which we are requesting them to do.
  • Keep an eye on long-term goals.
    Keeping a sense of perspective is paramount to longer-term successes. Have a collective vision of what you want to achieve from a project and don’t let minor setbacks derail the momentum or morale.
  • Change how you see, not just how you act.
    When an agency does something inappropriate, conditional clients are likely to perceive this as an infraction. Infractions naturally seem to call for consequences. Similarly, when a client does something inappropriate, agencies often react with penalty. Unconditional clients and unconditional agencies are apt to see the same act as a problem to be solved, not just punished.
  • Be authentic
    Communicate as people and be genuine. Remember that people respect those that can be candid about their limitations, speak from the heart, and confess they don’t always have the answers.
  • Talk less, ask more
    Create a sense of safety and listen without judgement. People fearing judgement are less likely to speak openly, and therefore less likely to give you the information necessary to understand the source of the problem.

References:
Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, Alfie Kohn, Simon and Schuster, Mar 28, 2006.

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