Leveraging Energy

January 15, 2018 by
Filed under: Agility, Leadership, Project management 

For many people, projects are a collection of tasks to be done, often represented in a pretty Gantt chart, Kanban board or some other representation. When tasks aren’t completed as expected, the focus is to get back on the plan. This is a rigorous perspective that can achieve the goal of getting those tasks done, but one that is often far more difficult, and delivers far less value than it should.

As we go through our day, for project-related tasks and for all the other things that consume our time, we do so in the context of energy. That energy may be working for us, working against us, or be in some sort of neutral state. This happens in the moment, it’s constantly changing, and if we are able to read that energy, we can leverage it to our advantage.

One of the key principles in Aikido is to use the energy of the opponent (which, by intention, is energy directed against us) and to redirect that energy to neutralize the threat. We start out learning mechanical movements (the equivalent of tasks in a schedule) and it takes years to attain this mastery. Watching the flow of an engagement at that level can be magical – an Aikido master can neutralize the combined attacks of several opponents simultaneously without so much as breaking a sweat.

In kayaking, energy is manifested in the flow of the water that you need to learn to work with, whether it be driven by tides or gravity. Leveraging the eddies to find a rest spot to strategize your next few moves or working with the tides to have a much more efficient ride for the day is critical for success. This energy of the water isn’t intentionally directed against us, it simply is there, constantly changing, and cannot be ignored.

In projects and in greater strategic contexts, your current plan is your best guess of how you will attain your destination. In the real world, though, the existing energies (working for you or against you) is the context around which we need to do our tactical navigation. The map meets the terrain. To blindly forge ahead without the consideration of these energies can make for a difficult adventure – in Aikido it may mean broken bones, in kayaking it may mean at best slowed progress, at worst outright setbacks.

Similar energies exist in the project context, and throughout all the interactions we have on a daily basis. There are risks with failure to recognize the flow of energy, and there potential opportunities to being open to what these energies may offer you as well. Are you aware of them?

If you are flexible in how you attain your goals, a project will flow more smoothly. Some of those intended tasks may indeed be accomplished exactly as intended, while others, in the context of the current state of that project world, will be difficult or impossible, maybe even foolish to attempt. With sensitivity to the energy in the room, other paths or opportunities will present themselves that can bring you closer to your destination in ways you had not imagined in the initial planning.

Viewed through the lens of assertive task accomplishment, acknowledging and leveraging energy to work a project to completion can appear negligent or lazy, as there isn’t strict attention to the original plan. Leveraging the energy of the moment, though, like an Aikido master or an accomplished kayaker, requires depth of experience and tactical awareness that can achieve greater results while consuming far less energy.

Think about your projects, the tasks or interactions you are in the midst of now. How well are they flowing in the context of the energy you find yourself in? Is it worth stepping back to reconsider the direction you take to find an easier path to your destination that works with, rather than against the energy that is present?

Task completion is one level of project management – much like the early mechanical movements in martial arts training or learning to balance in a kayak. Leveraging energy that the universe presents to us in the moment as we work toward our intended destination is another level of engagement altogether. – JB


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