… is that it isn’t all true. This is certainly the case when you start trying to discover the real story of projects. Writing case studies and audio scripts for this site turns out to be an evolutionary process since there is never a fixed and certain account of any project, and as one digs and burrows what one often unearths are narratives that, if not in direct contradiction to one another, have widely different views of what the facts are.
A classic case is the Sydney Opera House. The received wisdom is that the building we see is the work of the Danish architect Jorn Utzon, who won the design competition in 1955, left the project in 1966, but who is lauded for his magnificent accomplishment. Only in recent years has the contribution of Ove Arup – the man whose structural engineering firm worked out how to actually build the thing – been properly recognised. And it’s taking even longer for the ultimately tragic story of the architect Peter Hall to be acknowledged – the man with the thankless task of taking over from Utzon and creating a building that not only looks beautiful, but actually works. The concept is Utzon’s, the roof shells are Arups, and all that glass and most of the interiors are Hall’s.
The myth of the GM Hummer H2 sport utility vehicle is another case, and one I have been writing about recently. The myth (from business magazines and a respected project management text book) is that Mike DiGiovanni – a GM marketing chief – conceived the Hummer H2 and pulled together the team to create it and put it on the market in just two years. Certainly, he was one of the early promoters of the idea and he was appointed to run the programme. But a book I just got from America reveals that an awful lot of design and engineering work had already been done by that point and his main task was to put together the sales and marketing set-up to achieve the volume targets. Which isn’t to take anything away from DiGiovanni’s contribution, but it does change the plot of the story a little bit.
That’s the point. Very often – in discussing real events – creating a compelling story can become more important than a complete exposition of the facts. Stories are the most powerful way in which we learn, so it’s essential that we try not to be too selective in what we choose to tell. And we have to be prepared to change our story – even making it slightly less exciting – if new evidence undermines our current narrative.
I’ve just had to re-edit my audio script for the forthcoming programme about project teams that uses the Hummer H2 as the basis, because of reading that book. Maybe in due course I’ll find another source that paints yet another picture of the tale of this extraordinary vehicle, and have to revise it again. That’s show business!
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