Keeping your Cool

(c) JP Bresser -

To keep in the spirit of my cave diving adventure, it occurred to me how important presence and alertness of mind are for the success of your project. I have been scuba diving since the mid ‘90s and have continuous worked on improving my skills. I have made dives all over the world, have been to 200 feet and explored the amazing wrecks in Chuuk (Truk Lagoon).

So it was interesting to me that with my experience and training, something occurred to me the first time I penetrated a cave that had a more challenging profile for a novice cave diver as myself. This though hadn’t occurred to me this clearly before even though I have been diving in other overhead environments.

This specific cave had a narrow entry that went from about 20 feet to 100 feet in the first 10 yards after which it opened up and went back up to about 60 feet. While exploring the tunnel that presented itself around 60 feet, the thought popped into my mind that there was no option to panic or even feel uncomfortable. I was more than 500 feet in a cave and no matter what I would need to keep my wits for the same 500 feet to get out of the cave. No other options! So in case my mind decided to lose its wits it would need to wait until I got out. It is quite refreshing to have the clear presence of mind to keep the end result in mind and know there is just the present moment to deal with.

My practice is to translate this presence of mind to my day-to-day project management job. It starts with parking your ego at the door. Ego is deadly in scuba diving and also deadly to project success. The next step is to keep your eye on the result. This helps focus discussions and resolve potential conflict situations since it is not about the emotions (or egos) but about what would be the best decision for the project. Especially in the heat of the moment and the focus is shifting to “who is to blame”, it works wonders to point out that in the present moment such a focus is not going to get us closer to our end objective. We have all the time in the world to Sherlock Holmes the “who did it” AFTER we deliver or resolve the issue.

I also use this presence of mind with my team members especially when I find out that something either didn’t happen or didn’t happen correctly just before a major delivery to a client. Although I am the first to admit that it takes a few yoga breaths not to give in to the very first instinct, it comes down to figural being 500 feet into a cave which means a) I am the leader thus “to blame” since I am the one responsible in the end, b) we need to first get out of the situation and then c) related to my Monday blog conduct a lessons learned AFTER we are in “safe waters” to make sure such a situation does not happen again.

Safe diving in your project management world!


1 thought on “Keeping your Cool”

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    I really enjoyed reading your blog, Nathalie! As a SCUBA diver myself, I could feel my own anxiety level rise just thinking about being that far from a surface breath. Yikes!

    When a challenging situation arises stress levels increase, blood flows to the arms and legs where it’s useful for hitting, kicking and running, but not much help in thinking. That happens in projects, too. When working on intense projects with a team I always take time to say to the team “At least one person must remain sane at all times – and it won’t always be me!” SOmeone has to keep their cool and have the courage to say “Stop! Think! Panic kills!”

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