Overcoming Challenges: Are You On Whitewater or An Ocean Liner?
As times change, professionals need to adapt. This is relatively easy for some, but very difficult for others. So the challenge for all is to determine the most appropriate strategies for dealing with turbulent times. One framework for consideration is to think in terms of the "whitewater" approach versus "ocean liner" approach, as these can provide good analogies for work environments today.
Given the changing times, project and program managers in any kind of setting will have to learn how to cope. The degrees of difficulty depend on one's adaptation method -- and one of the better used frameworks is the so-called whitewater versus ocean liner approach.
The world has changed from a world full of ocean liners. Some professionals have found getting on one efficient at the start of their careers and have managed to cruise nicely through for several years. By contrast, today's environment is more and more albeit almost entirely of the whitewater variety, where we travel down the stream, encounter very rough waters, an occasional large waterfall, many rocks and shoals along the way. Utilitarian skills is required to negotiate the narrow and shifting openings that represent opportunities as well as the avoidance of disaster.
It takes a different type of person to navigate through challenges on an ocean-liner than it does to navigate whitewater challenges. Professionals can be characterized as either ocean oriented or whitewater oriented. Here is the contrasting picture of what it might take for ocean liner people or whitewater people working in either environments.
1. Ocean liner person in the ocean environment
This is the old configuration where a dedicated and competent, but somewhat risk-averse professional, is working in a large, steady, challenging, but very secure, organization. This worked for a long time, but, unfortunately, for many, this environment is very rare; thus, seeing someone in such an environment is a rarity.
2. Whitewater person in the ocean environment
This situation is becoming a little more common, I believe, for the simple reason that this environment recognizes that it needs to change to a more whitewater environment. However, there can be tremendous pitfalls here because the whitewater person may not thrive in that ocean liner environment; and, in fact, may become blind-sighted from what he or she sees coming and sees what is needed, but, perhaps, is not being adopted by the leaders within that organization.
3. Ocean liner person in a whitewater environment
This is quite treacherous, indeed. If you have ever in true, physical whitewater you'll recognize that you do not want to have the wrong boat in this kind of environment! For someone who is very much used to the steady and secure environment, the whitewater can be quite intimidating, indeed. Survival is the issue and any ocean liner person in this environment must recognize that he needs to retool and redefine himself rapidly. It might even be better, if possible, for them to try to retool within an organization that is retooling itself from the ocean environment to a whitewater environment.
4. Whitewater person in a whitewater environment
This is tending to be a more and more common configuration today. Today's challenges shift and change so quickly that people have no choice but to also adapt as fast. Those that can retool themselves quickly, identify how they must define themselves and what new approaches they must take are at a premium and are very valuable in this said environment.
Both concepts are great metaphors for today's work environment. These two analogies describe not just work environments but also how clients are to be dealt with, primarily because such environments dictate how they turn out. The biggest thing is that they point out to all of us the need to constantly adapt and redefine ourselves as the road ahead is sure to be much more akin to the whitewater environment than the ocean-liner.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Reiling, PMP, PE, MBA is an experienced Project Manager and Engineer. John's web sites, Project Management Training Online and Lean Six Sigma Training Online, provide online training in Lean, Six Sigma, and related topics. John writes regularly in his Project Management blog, PMcrunch.com .