M. Mitchell Waldop urges us to manage projects from the bottom up. In an article published in Business 2.0 in October 2002 (so I've been sitting on this one for awhile…) The Management Secrets of the Brain he draws parallels to recent understanding of how our brains work to managing organizations.
Your brain is the ultimate example of a complex, decentralized organization. And because we (usually) behave coherently, smoothly integrating new circumstances as they arise, the brain is also the epitome of an adaptive organization, a learning organization, a shared-vision organization — in short, the ideal modern company.
Waldop makes five claims:
- Never try to micromanage a large, complex organization.
There's not enough executive attention in the world to ironmonger this level of activity.
- Don't let bottom-up self-organization go wild.
Without leadership standard operating procedures are directionless and blind.
- The best way to control your subordinates is to just point them in the right direction.
This new model…assumes that [leaders have] just one job, which is to generate a neural map of the [organization's] goals, strategies, and current situation.
- Be careful listening to the voice of experience — that voice could be your own.
Sometimes an organization has to break out of its rut and try a new approach.
- The organization can't succeed without passion.
Unless we know what's important, what matters, then all the rationality in the world gets us nowhere.
Waldop makes a great case for managing projects on an agile or lean basis. The brain is ideally suited for project complexity, uncertainty, inevitable learning, and the underlying humanness of the endeavor. Why would we even try a different approach.