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Are project managers afraid of their own genius?

Michelle LaBrosse
January 18, 2013

When you think of the word ‘genius’, what first comes to mind? Perhaps Albert Einstein, Ludwig van Beethoven, or Isaac Newton. You may be imagining someone who is very different from yourself, someone who sits in a basement and tinkers with experiments, and who routinely forgets to use a hairbrush or eat a meal.

It’s time to change what we associate with the word ‘genius’. Start by getting up and looking in the mirror: can you spot the genius? If not, you may need to change your perspective, because it is there.

The capacity to be a genius is a part of our physiology. The human brain is a fascinating piece of work. It’s a dynamic neural network that makes billions of connections per second. New neurons are being made constantly in response to mental activity and learning. The reason that this is so fascinating and fantastic is because we are not stuck in any holding pattern—the ability to change our minds, literally, and become a genius on a subject matter is within our capabilities.

Whether you think that you are born with natural genius, or you obtained it through your experience and environment, the important thing to be clear: you have it. Genius, that is. We all do. Here are some ways to tap into that natural genius.

Know your strengths and challenges
Being a natural genius does not mean you have to have a natural aptitude for every subject matter under the sun. Albert Einstein, a legendary genius, failed his university entrance exam. While he excelled in the math and science sections, he failed the rest (history, languages, and geography). What this should tell you is: “Don’t get down because there are areas where you do not excel.” Recognise them as challenges, and work to mitigate them. But to tap into your true natural genius, discover the areas that you excel, and work to develop those into true genius status.

The drive to fail
Fail? What, are you crazy? For most of us Type A project managers, the thought of failing bring shivers to our spines. But the fact is, you don’t know where your limits are until you push them, and in pushing your limits you are bound to fail once in a while. To tap into your genius, you can’t be afraid of failure or run away from it. You have to chase after, fail, and learn how to fix your mistakes so that you don’t fail (in the same way) again.

Deliberate practice
Casual Practice is going out and playing on an intramural baseball league. Deliberate practice is going to the batting cages every night until you have perfected your swing. You will strike out a lot more in deliberate practice, but this is the only way you will master your skill. So what does this have to do with you? When you find your natural genius, you have the ability to perfect it with deliberate practice, during which you will rise out of your comfort zone to see just how good you can be.

Kick stress to the curb
Every wonder why you can’t think when you are rushing around late trying to find your car keys? Once you find them, it’s so obvious that, of course, they would be in your key bowl on the coffee table. The thing is, stress reduces our ability to think. If we live with chronic stress, our brain is taking the majority of the burden, and it’s impossible to tap into your natural genius, let alone your natural sanity. Pinpoint the biggest stress factors in your life, then mitigate them fast.

“Somewhere, someone is looking for exactly what you have to offer.”—Louise Hay, inspirational author and founder of Hay House Publishing. It’s hard to recognise our natural genius if we are not in the environment that appreciates or needs those specific skills. You can try to change yourself to best fit into a professional environment, but the likely result will be mediocrity. To fully develop your natural genius, you need to find a place to be the ‘best of the best’, where you can do what you are best at. Find out what that is, and go there.

In 2013, make a commitment to discover your natural genius—it is in you!

Co-authored by Kristen Medina

Michelle LaBrosse
Michelle LaBrosse (PMP) is one of the Project Management Institute's (PMI) 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World and the founder of Cheetah Learning, a former PMI Professional Development Provider of the Year. She boasts a background in engineering and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Managers (OPM) program, as well as a prolific writer and educator, having authored Cheetah Negotiations, Cheetah Project Management, Cheetah Know How and Cheetah Exam Prep as well as numerous articles in publications worldwide.
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2 thoughts on “Are project managers afraid of their own genius?

  1. Michelle,

    Thanks for the post. I’m new to but hopefully most posts are equally as interesting.

    Quite a lot of what you wrote resonated with me but in particular the part about deliberate practice; going outside of our comfort zones. It is without doubt the hardest part of the job, to lay yourself on the line and not be sure as to the likely outcome. I think this is born from the common mantra in our profession of “you are only as good as your last project” and therefore we do everything within our power to make sure that we are not associated with a failure.

    However, all to often I’ve seen project managers shy away from the tough calls, the things that they don’t feel quite sure enough about to make a decision or to pick up and run with. I’ve been guilty of it myself, however with concerted effort – deliberate practice – it is getting easier!

    One final thought, whilst we are undoubtedly geniuses (!!) we also have the capacity to be incredibly stupid too. I wrote an article recently about “Nodding Dogs” on projects (…I’d love to hear your thoughts!


    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your feedback! I loved your “Nodding Dogs” post – candid and oh so true. The fear of “looking stupid” is actually making us more stupid! The nodding dog syndrome can be a pretty bad contagion once it spreads through a company, and asking the “stupid questions” no longer feels like an option.

      In our meetings, sometimes I throw out a completely off the wall and genuinely stupid idea – just to see who is paying attention. And then I kind of chuckle to myself when I notice the people where were actually paying attention squirm at the prospect of telling it to me straight and saying: “no, that is a horrible idea”.

      I think you should stay the course, and as you become more and more senior in your organization, you will be a model example about how “stupid questions” are the new norm. As the leader in my pack, I make sure to ask any question that pops into my head until I am 100% clear. This seems to set the tone that questions are OK, and that if you are not asking clarifying questions you are not demonstrating any sort of understanding (and you are not hiding that from anyone, no matter how many times you nod).

      Thanks gain for your feedback – and great article!

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