They say necessity is the mother of invention, but this doesn’t explain the ways of blue sky thinkers. So what gives birth to new ideas and innovative project management?
Earlier this week I spoke to a man who claimed to have developed the business case to build a renewable energy desalination plant in Sydney. Presumably that’s the one now located at Kurnell. While he was adamant that Sydney Water had taken his idea and given him no credit for it, it seems he’s moved on to his next hobby: building a solar powered train.
Keen to learn how such ideas are generated, I asked him why he one day decided that having a renewable energy desalination plant came to mind as something worth pursuing. From what I could gather, a passion for sustainability led to the pairing of two key concepts: dry Australia girt by sea and the enormous amount of energy required to run a desalination plant. His original idea was to run the plant off solar power, but it turned out that wind power was more effective.
I recount this conversation for two reasons. One, to demonstrate that necessity (Australia’s need for fresh water) was indeed the mother of invention; and two, to note that it wasn’t the only factor. In other words, a brainchild requires a mother and a father.
Projects don’t often proceed ‘by the book’. There are always unique factors that can make a project challenging or rewarding depending on how they are handled. The exceptional projects are not those that run smoothly in a textbook fashion adhering to that magical triangle of time, cost and quality objectives. The exceptional projects are challenging but use innovation to arrive at solutions that lead to that satisfying, rewarding feeling at the end.
As I alluded earlier, having a problem is often the impetus for innovative thinking that leads to a solution. However, this concept discounts blue-sky thinkers whose ideas tend to come from everywhere other than a challenge grounded in a situation. Their ideas come from observation, curiosity, passion.
Combining ‘necessity’ and ‘blue-sky thinking’ creates a hell of a brainstorm: imagine a practical solution to a specific project problem that gives birth to new processes, or ways of treating risk or managing stakeholders that can be used effectively in other projects.
When you’re next faced with an obstacle in your project I encourage you to stop limiting your thinking to the problem at hand. The best project managers are insightful and versatile and creative and can turn a unique problem into a universal solution. My only warning: don’t be so open-minded your brains fall out.