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Mental Models, Personal Quirks and Successful Projects

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  July 17, 2012  |  5 Comments

Tom Peters (our keynote speaker at the 2011 PPM Summit) wrote a testimonial about Stephen Covey for the Washington Post yesterday (  For those of you who follow Tom Peters, it was classic Peters and was quite heartfelt, in my opinion.  Never having been a Covey acolyte, my reaction was at first just the common one of “oh my good I’m getting old”.  People who have populated the landscape in the world I have grown up in and lived in are passing away.  None of this is of particular note in and of itself – what is significant and highly disturbing are the comments down below Peters’ column.  Nasty, petty and narrow minded.  Nasty and petty is just bad human nature but the narrow mindedness is scary.  Peters is of an age with Covey.  They are both contemporaries and peers.  No matter what any of us thought of Covey or think of Peters the article was an insight into their “world”.

I’ve recently been thinking about what is coming next in this unfolding saga of the new normal.  In many ways this small blip on the radar of life (the article above) is a challenging proposition.  Why does it matter if Peters is ego centric?  Anyone who is over the age of 25 who hasn’t figured out that ego centricity comes with the territory for many thought leaders is simply missing a core insight about human nature.  And if they are missing that – what else are they missing?

Add this to a call I had the other day where a client had built a mental wall around what they thought they were responsible for and what the “business” was responsible for and you have some possible indications of a disturbing trend.  I’m not saying this is new.  I’m just kicking the tires on the possibility that mental models are becoming more rigid in the new normal.  I hope not.  Now, more than ever, we need collaborative and innovative thinking.  And that thinking starts by creating room for all sorts of human flaws.

I can go down the list of projects and programs I’ve run and time after time, it has been the fact that I am willing to accept people others class as difficult and ego centric as valued team members that has gotten us to a successful conclusion.  Some of them have been so difficult I’ve had to find an office on another floor or in another building to preserve team harmony but in every case these same people pulled the rabbit out of their hats when we needed it the most.

In the new normal, as I see it, just following the rules won’t help your business.  Checking the boxes off on a requirements document won’t produce good and valuable software.  We need to do less to create and create more value and sometimes the only ones who can really see the end state are the ones whose ego is strong enough to think outside of the box.

Bottom Line– I’ll take an ego centric, bad tempered, brilliant human being who cares passionately about creating something of value on my team any day to a nice person who will do what they are asked to do, when they are asked to do it.

Category: new-normal  ppm-summit  

Donna Fitzgerald
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
31 years IT industry

Donna Fitzgerald focuses her research on strategies and approaches for using program and portfolio management as a way to create unique business value. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Mental Models, Personal Quirks and Successful Projects

  1. Mike Gotta says:

    This caught me eye: “Bottom Line– I’ll take an ego centric, bad tempered, brilliant human being who cares passionately about creating something of value on my team any day to a nice person who will do what they are asked to do, when they are asked to do it.”

    And yet the network of the “nice person” along with the social capital created through those healthy and emotionally positive relationships may bring about the cooperation and insight from those not on the “formal team”, adding indirect value to the activity in ways that that ego centric, bad tempored, yet brilliant individual cannot.

    It’s complex and not easily addressed in a blog post (or comment) but while individuals are indeed important so are networks. Being “nice” is not necessarily a guarantee that you have a richer network but I might generalize as such vs. someone who is unapproachable.

  2. Donna Fitzgerald says:

    Couldn’t agree more with every thing you said. Carol Rozwell and I have been meaning to write something on social capital for years because we believe the concepts are so important. Just as a point of clarification I use “nice” in a way that means “pleasant but lightweight in terms of presence and activity”. I don’t have a single word to replace your use of the word “nice”. When I first wrote about social capital in 2008, I was using a model that said social captial rested on the trinity of “trust, reciprocity and level of cooperation”. What is interesting (to me at least) is the fact that these difficult people NEVER violated the three elements in their relationship with me and if I’m completely honest they were always very “nice” to me, no matter how horrible they were to others.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Your insights contributed significantly to the point I was hoping to make.

  3. Mike Gotta says:

    Donna, you might enjoy the resources below:

    Abstract: Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology

    Abstract: Social Capital (Key Ideas)

    Research from Burt (Neighbor Networks), Putnam, Lin also relevant.

  4. Donna Fitzgerald says:

    Thanks. I will check these out. When I was doing my initial research I became very interested in the relationship between guanxi and social capital. Guanxi is the Chinese concept that most closely parallels the western view of social capital. I found that it actually is closer to what we find in organizations than the somewhat broader extension of social capital to society in general.

    Happy to send you the research I’ve stocked piled on this is you ever get seriously interested.

    I also like Elinor Ostrom’s paper on Social Capital

  5. Carol Rozwell says:

    Interesting conversation – and yes Donna, we have to write that note.

    My initial reaction to your closing statement was, well, that I don’t want to work with an ego-centric mean person. But the second half of the statement gave me pause – someone who wants to create value.That I get.

    So maybe there is a more subtle undercurrent here (let’s face it, we rip off blogs quickly sometimes). I’ve been doing interviews on what makes a socially conscious leader for a special project (just blogged about the interview with Vineet Nayar ( ) and a few points resonate here, too.

    Mr. Nayar commented on the need for employees to understand leaders’ intent. That relates to trust and social capital. So if I find that person who wants to create value, and I am comfortable with their intent I might be more willing to accept it if they are a little ‘rough around the edges.’

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