The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake. ~ Meister Eckhart


A mystic theologian seems a rather odd person to quote for a project management blog. Especially a philosopher/theologian who lived before the Reformation of the 16th century and the Enlightenment a century or two later, when Rational Thinking became central to work and life.

If you are uncomfortable with me quoting a mystic, John F. Kennedy is reported to have said pretty much the same thing.


Even Churchill, the great motivator and action man of his generation, said 20 years earlier, “I never worry about action, but only about inaction.”

Inaction seems like it is something we should be concerned about in business, but it is not what we have trained management to worry about in recent years. Rather we have trained them to worry more about the consequences of action.

What we gained in terms of logic and science after the Reformation and Enlightenment, we lost in another human way of knowing – a type of knowing that develops out out of the ability to contemplate. This ability to see where our thinking is taking us and know if that is where we want to go. But a shift is starting to occur, Fast Company, for example gives three reasons everyone at google is meditating.

Today most of us resist one type of contemplation, especially in business, and that is simple mindfulness – stopping the endless chatter of our minds and focusing on what you are doing. Being present in a meeting. Listening. Microsoft launched Windows on this idea that multi-tasking was the management ideal, to have multiple apps running at the same time. In early 2000, Bill Gates argued for three screens on every desk. Active apps on one screen, SharePoint on another, and Outlook on the third. So now we have all of that and more, we have lots of apps running and we switch between them 30 plus times an hour in our highly distracting world of constant messaging, checking, flipping and fluttering around our several screens. We take our screens with us everywhere. At the big screen they have to tell us to turn our little screen off for the show. For many of us, a screen is the last thing we see each day, not our spouse or our children, and it is the first thing we pay attention to in the morning.

Today, we truly we have master planners, deployment experts, and risk managers. All of these people running around applying their certification skills. We have over 750,000 PMPs!  But we are certifying and promoting activity, not discernment, wisdom, and those other things we obtain through the contemplation arts. Is everyone sure that is what we really want and need?

Has anyone thought about the consequences of having 750,000 PMPs in the workplace? Managing not from sound theory but from inputs and outputs?

Maybe project management is just an activity, just was just a set of tools and techniques? Maybe it was’t meant to be profession?

Take risk management and contract management. From my personal experience these two management areas has gotten a bit out of control in many organizations. For instance, it was far more easy to engage many organizations pre 9/11, especially for simple things like a two or three day training event. A customer would select a workshop and agree to a price, we would agree on dates, they would cut a PO, we would conduct the workshop and invoice. Simple and seldom, if ever, a problem.

For the same work today, it is not uncommon to do all of the above, but to also to add to the mix a NDA, a one-sided PSA, a multi-step process to get on the approved vendor list, proof of liability insurance, blood test, safety training, and then when we are on-site for two days, ID badges, security clearance and an escort in and out of the building and to the bathroom when nature calls. Why?

After 9/11 we had two customers who we were doing work for that felt they needed to halt our contracts until they figured out security and that was the Secret Service and US Naval Academy. We certainly understood, and when things calmed down we were back. Another customer, CVM, a division of the FDA, required that we go through a five-point security clearance process before entering their offices in Rockville, MD. After filling out the paper work that detailed my work and living history for the previous seven years, and after neighbors, employers, etc., were interviewed, I was contacted by an agent that told me they needed to conduct an in-depth in-person interview in the work place. I told them I was working for the City of Tampa at the time (I was doing an EPM deployment for strategic planning and IT), that they did not have security clearance to enter the offices (for some reason I liked telling them that), but the public library was down stairs and that we could meet there for the interview. They told me when to meet them, that there would be two of them and that they would be wearing suits. They arranged a room, we had the interview and then a few weeks later they contacted me again and said they now needed to now conduct an interview in my home. When the interview process was finally over, and apparently I passed because I never heard anything officially, my interviewer asked if I had any questions. I asked him if he thought the entire thing was a bit overboard when all I needed to do was enter a building and do some training on Microsoft Project and Microsoft Project Server. He responded by saying, “It keeps us all employed.”

Hand erasing part of the inactive word

In business today there is all of this thinking and activity, all of these contracts, all of this planning and all of this risk management, all of these management tools and techniques – and what it all eventually leads to is inaction if it isn’t tempered with judgement in terms of use and application. Because if it gets out of control, it gets costly and whenever you attach a high cost to activity, inaction is the eventual result.

Think, and Contemplate. Contemplation leads to the wise use of project management tools and techniques. Contemplation creates a healthy environment for good thinking.

Without the wisdom that comes from contemplation, mediation and mindfulness, all of the project management activity will lead to inaction.

Maybe wisdom should be a chapter in the PMBOK guide? Where mindfulness, contemplation and meditation are taught as tools and techniques?




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