An interview with Kimberly Wiefling, author of Scrappy Project Management, trainer, facilitator and consultant in Silicon Valley Alliances by Łukasz Paluszkiewicz

You have decided to submit an abstract for International PMI Poland Chapter Con­gress for the second year in a row, and you qualified each time. Why have you decided to speak on this event again?

Last year’s PMI Poland Chapter congress was such a wonderful experience for me! I felt so warmly welcomed and appreciat­ed by the people I met. And I also felt the growing importance that Poland is playing in the project management world. On a per­sonal note, I felt emotionally connected to my Polish colleagues because Poland is the home of my great grandparents, who spoke only Polish.

Fot. David Kaszlikowski

Last year you conquered hearts of Polish Project Managers with your attitude and chickens. You have achieved a perfect score in the surveys and your workshop was sold out. What is your secret?

Passion! I love my work, and I strongly be­lieve that inspiring people to become great leaders is critically important to the future of Our World. Most importantly, I rely on the people who participate in my workshops to contribute their valuable wisdom and expe­rience to our work together. The participants make the magic happen! I simply open the door to their possibilities and unleash the “group genius”.

Fot. David Kaszlikowski

You have been consulting with many big companies in Silicon Valley, and also Japan. You did a project with NASA also. From my perspective, those are very different cul­tures, how do you work effectively with such different people?

What a great question! Yes, these are very different country cultures and organ­izational cultures. But one thing they have in common is that they all are composed of human beings. Because of this, all teams face many similar human challenges in spite of differences in their business and technical challenges. Research has clearly shown that most global teams fail almost entirely for hu­man skills and team dynamic reasons. These include a lack of trusting relationships and the inability to overcome communication challenges, including productive approach­es to decision-making and problem-solving. Teams universally also frequently struggle with unclear goals and lack of shared priori­ties. Neuroscience has taught me a lot about the tendencies of our human brains, which share many commonalities globally. Just as the Hawaiian Islands are all connected deep below the surface of the ocean even though they appear to be separate above the water­line of the details of each organization’s culture or challenges, I have found it is useful to con­nect with people on the level of the common ground of human being-ness that we all share.

Fot. David Kaszlikowski

You are travelling a lot for your projects. If you had to choose only one place in the world to do your projects, where would it be and why?

Although I’ve fallen in love with many in­credible places on Planet Earth, I must admit that I would choose to do my work in my hometown of Silicon Valley, California. Sili­con Valley is one of the most diverse com­munities I’ve ever experienced – over half of our population here doesn’t speak English at home. I can enjoy a truly global experience right here at home! Every team here has peo­ple from other countries and cultures. There are many educational institutions here that foster creativity and innovation. And the Silicon Valley embraces diversity, risk-tak­ing, mistake-making, and “failing forward”, all crucial elements of innovation and en­trepreneurship. This magical combination makes Silicon Valley the birthplace of tre­mendous innovation, and also truly a “City of the World”. As a Citizen of Planet Earth, I’m thrilled to be living and working here!

This year you will be teaching us how to lead to achieve impossible. Could you give us a glimpse of what will your speech be about?

This is my favorite topic! I’ve been work­ing on so-called “impossible” projects for most of my career. I’ve noticed that, when people say something is impossible, they mean that they personally cannot imagine how to achieve it. That’s why so many smart people have said truly stupid things like “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.” That quote is from Lord Kelvin, a famous physicist, who was a professor and also head of the British Royal Society. Why didn’t he say “Airplanes may take hundreds or thousands of years to develop, and rely on technology that we can barely imagine”. And what about birds? They are heavier than air, and surely Lord Kelvin had seen birds when he made that statement. Achieving “im­possible” requires us to have the courage to imagine a future that we DON’T know HOW to achieve. We must be willing to take risks, make mistakes, and bear disappointment. In addition, we must be willing to continue on in spite of criticism from cynics who would rather crush our dreams than support us.

Many things seem “impossible” until someone else does it – a competitor, for ex­ample. Why didn’t Motorola invent the digi­tal phone? Why didn’t Nokia invest the smart phone? Why didn’t Marriott or Hilton invent AirBnB? Why didn’t a taxi company invent Uber? Why didn’t recording companies in­vent iTunes? I’m sure that there were people in each of these organizations advocating for change and future possibilities, but… some­how their ideas were not considered feasible. I can imagine some “expert” explaining why their ideas for the future of their company were unrealistic, not feasible, or even “im­possible”. Sadly these companies all paid a high price for their inability to imagine a new future beyond their current reality.

As project leaders we are often challenged to do what seems impossible. I look forward to equipping people with tools that will help them imagine the future, overcome obsta­cles, and create possibilities, and achieve what others do not dare to do.

Fot. David Kaszlikowski

Will the chickens help you this year as well?

Yes, as always I will be traveling with my rubber chicken, named Kabungee. He is a frequent flyer, but sometimes I joke that he is actually a “frequent FRYER”… being a chicken, you know. (Fried chicken is so tasty, but Kabungee does NOT think this is funny!) We are both looking forward to spending time with the PMI Poland Chapter Congress this year.

You will be also leading a workshop where you and the group will work out 12 keys for successful leader. Could you share your perspective on this topic?

I was educated as a scientist, earning a B.S. in physics and chemistry and a M.S. in Physics. When I entered the business world I discovered that the biggest challeng­es I faced were those that required human skills to succeed. Unfortunately my educa­tion did not prepare me at all to successfully overcome these challenges. In fact, all of my professional life I’ve been striving to master these vital human skills, sometimes dispar­agingly referred to as “soft skills”, or even the “touchy-feely stuff” by my more techni­cal colleagues. Finally I’ve created a “leader­ship toolkit” that makes these human skills concepts succinct, accessible, and learnable. I developed this toolkit while working with Tokyo Medical and Dental University profes­sors on a program called “Creating Medical Innovators”.

Fot. David Kaszlikowski

Is it obligatory to wear creative socks to attend the workshop?

Absolutely! Research has proven that peo­ple who wear creative socks are also more creative thinkers. This is a phenomenon called “enclothed cognition”. The way we dress impacts that way we think and act. Don’t believe me! Try it for yourself! I’m sure you are going to feel much more creative when you put on a pair of creative socks!

Fot. David Kaszlikowski

Do you want to say something to the Pro­ject Managers in Poland and to those that will be at the congress?

Poland is a world economic leader. As an­yone can learn from Wikipedia, “The econ­omy of Poland is the sixth largest economy in the European Union.” I’m personally very honored to be working with Project Manag­ers in Poland because I strongly believe that strengthening and expanding businesses globally is an important way to contribute to improving the people’s quality of life. PMI Poland Chapter Congress participants are building the future of Poland, Europe, and Our World. In some small way this congress is another step towards a world where we can collaborate and do business together more effectively, and where peaceful com­merce and positive cross-border relation­ships are the norm. I’m looking forward to being part of this step towards a better world… together!

Fot. David Kaszlikowski