The Information Glut and the Power of Hugging a Redwood

By Carl Pritchard

MSNBC, Fox News and a recent tour guide all have something in common.  They can inundate with unwanted and potentially harmful information.  But we, as project managers, have the ability to actually turn this in the right direction, becoming an oasis in a sea of noise.

My wife and I recently went on a tour in San Francisco to see the coastal redwoods.  It was to be the epic conclusion to a week in the Bay area (coupled with a SeminarsWorld® training I was doing).  After a week in the city, we wanted to recharge amongst the trees in Muir Woods, reputed to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

However, when bookended by a tour guide with oral diarrhea, the magic was lost.  Our tour guide shared data without a lot of information.  Story after story in a firm, grinding voice.  Without taking a break, it seemed, our guide took us from the prehistory of San Francisco Bay to the battle for the trees with ruthless robber barons who wanted to strip the forests bare.

It’s not that the information didn’t have value.  It could have.  But much like the media icons of the right and left, the information was lost in a sea of meaningless commentary.  Rather than sticking to the facts of the stories, commentary has become the norm.  The cacophony of such jabber leaves one either cheering the interpretation or railing at the sky.

Even in the relative quiet of Muir Woods, it took us both about 30 minutes to calm down and enjoy the natural splendor.  Then Nancy hugged the tree.  And she said something very telling, It’s not saying a word.  It’s not saying anything.  Her comment hung in the quiet with a joyous tone.  The quiet was a celebration unto itself.  The relative quiet made the forest special.

On the 25-minute return to civilization, our guide began his relentless diatribe anew.  We both concurred that had this been a form of torture to extract information, we’d have surrendered about five minutes in on the return trip.  As soon as we could hop off the bus, we did.  We caught a ferry back across the bay.

In the daily cacophony of our work lives, we rarely seek out the redwoods.  We rarely turn into tree-hugging zealots enjoying the quiet of a given moment.  And as project managers, it’s an obligation we should take seriously.  Here are three simple steps worthy of your consideration if you want your project environment to have a few Muir Woods moments.

  • Acknowledge the accomplishments. Be sure to take a moment to quietly appreciate the meaningful moments.  If someone achieved without fanfare, that may be by design.  But be grateful for both their presence and their service, and let them know the facts of the case that render them praiseworthy.
  • Allow your team and yourself some isolation. Not everyone thrives in the hustle and bustle of the work day.  Many Myers-Briggs® “I’s” (introverts) find themselves at their most productive when there is little or no external influence.  If you’re not worried about their performance, you may want to forego the 10-minute check-in and actually steer others away from their cubicles.  Serving as their shield makes you a tree-hugger of the highest order.
  • Celebrate their basic nature. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of Muir Woods was the sheer age of the trees.  Many were growing during the Incan empire.  They’ve had one job for over a millennium.  And they do it well.  Not everyone is seeking to climb the mountaintop and take on some incredibly daunting challenge.  They simply want to excel in place.  They relish their roots and their role.  We should, too.

There’s an enormous temptation to fill every void with insight, information and meaning.  The more we can do to explore and exploit the meaning of the quiet achievers in our work environments, and the more we can capture those moments ourselves, the more everyone has a greater opportunity to flourish.