Project Practitioners > The PM Passion Paradox

The PM Passion Paradox

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


“Dogs, god bless them, are passionate. As numerous squirrels, birds, boxes, blankets, and toys can tell you, they do not accomplish most of what they set out to do. A dog has an advantage in all this: a graciously short short-term memory that keeps at bay the creeping sense of futility and impotence. Reality for us humans, on the other hand, has no reason to be sensitive to the illusion we operate under. Eventually it will intrude.

What humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose, you could say, is like passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective.”


Ryan Holiday, in his book Ego Is the Enemy, describes my dog perfectly. No matter how many squirrels and birds she whiffs on, it does not stop her from going after the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and so on.

At the arrival of each animal, she gets very still, crouches into position, and waits. This time, things will be different. She slowly creeps forward carefully stepping each paw in front of the other. Once she reaches a comfortable distance, she turns on the afterburners and sprints towards the vulnerable creature.

Immediately, the squirrel climbs up the tree or the bird flies away without much bother. She probably feels like she was right there while the potential victim never felt a worry.

This game has been going on for two years now with no results. Yet, every day, the game is on. She takes no days off. She cannot even relax in the window long enough to sleep. Once an animal gets into her yard, she prances onto the deck as to not make a peep to continue her routine of stalking and the eventual ending of coming up empty.

This scenario, in human terms, describes the insane or the passion paradox. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Below, Holiday expresses the human side of this passion with purpose:


“Which is why a deliberate, purposeful person operates on a different level, beyond the sway or the sickness. They hire professionals and use them. They ask questions, they ask what could go wrong, they ask for examples. They plan for contingencies. Then they are off to the races. Usually they get started with small steps, complete them, and look for feedback on how the next set can be better. They lock in gains, and then get better as they go, often leveraging those gains to grow exponentially rather than arithmetically.”


There are steps to breaking free of the passion paradox and turning it into something useful. They are as follows:


  1. Start with small steps.

I have learned a lot working with small, private companies. A tendency they have is they want to grow without focusing on the small details. In one such instance, the owner is talking about franchising at some point, meanwhile has accounting problems that started on day one. Also, performing the current workload has him running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Having issues like this on a small scale does not translate well to franchising or grandiose dreams. To scale a business, your ducks must be in a row. Your foundation needs to be strong before you start building a structure. Marketing to hundreds of thousands should not even be in your vocabulary at this point.


  1. Complete small steps.

I will continue to use the example from above. Completing small steps includes performing the quoted work to exceed the client’s expectations. At a small level, the details should be pinned up and the work exceptional.

If you cannot handle painting a room, how can you handle painting a house? If you cannot handle painting a house, how can you handle painting multiple houses? A snowball effect starts to reveal itself. Completing the small steps exceedingly well translates to a healthier snowball.

Manage one person before managing a team. Manage a team before managing multiple. Start with projects in the hundreds of dollars before attempting millions of dollars worth of work. Your focus should not only be on starting small but also completing the small tasks.


  1. Look for feedback.

Now that the small steps are complete, ask for feedback from customers. Reviews and testimonials are great ways to show others you can perform at a high level. Word of mouth is a fantastic way to market at this level. Talking about search engine optimization and viral videos are more than likely a waste of time.

Again, a small company should focus on completing tasks well and using those clients as a form of advertising. As word gets around, then start to develop a marketing strategy to increase workload. Having the workload without the ability to perform well is a setback.

Get feedback from your team as well. See what is working and not working internally. The feedback you receive should start to make your foundation earthquake proof. If you focus on getting too big too soon, a gust of wind may bring the house crashing to the ground.


  1. Leverage gains to grow.

This final step talks about growth exponentially, not arithmetically. Additive growth is slow and more difficult to scale. Exponential growth is scalability at its finest. You should have the systems in place to scale while still operating on a small level. This approach ensures proof of concept.

Now, the snowball starts to gain steam going down the hill. It no longer needs a push from you. The ball is rolling, and instead of pushing it, you need to control it.

You begin competing with some of the larger companies at this stage. To use a sports reference, rather than dinking and dunking your way down the field, you start throwing some deep passes. Your repertoire of skills starts to build.



How can someone be busy and not accomplish anything? That is the project management passion paradox.

A dreamer who sits back and thinks big without putting pen to paper is a perfect example. Someone who speaks of a great idea they have yet nothing gets accomplished. He or she is still writing the screenplay, still trying to find the perfect career, or sitting on the sidelines while others put their skin in the game.

Instead of trying and failing forward, he or she would rather think about it some more. Inversely, someone can be busy sun up to sun down yet continue to struggle. He or she is moving around quickly and has irons in the fire yet nothing pops. This example is someone moving quickly in the wrong direction. It appears fancy on social media, yet it is built on a lousy foundation.

Small becomes large through baby steps. Overnight success is a myth. Use the small wins as leverage for growth. Incremental gains eventually turn to exponential improvements. Develop the proof of concept before hiring a marketing firm to blast out your message. Get the accounting straight for a few employees before you start thinking of thousands.

The same goes for your projects. Do not be busy for the sake of busyness. Do not sit back and think more data is better. If you find yourself complacent, act. If you find yourself running around, think.

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