Project Management Institute

Create ... don't compete!

Concerns of Project Managers

Catherine L. Tonne. PMP Livermore, California

Every day as project managers we are presented with more opportunities to be creative than we can possibly keep count of! We often do not use our challenges as the exceptional creative outlets they truly are. We feel, instead, that we must compete with the world in order to move our projects ahead. We must fight the battle so that we can win the war. For our projects, we “compete”:

  • With functional managers for time, resources and respect;
  • With other projects to get ours higher on the corporate priority list;
  • With other project managers for the juiciest, sweetest, highest-visibility project assignments;
  • With time, both for resources and time to market;
  • With budget allocations for project financial resources;
  • With product functionality and the related tradeoffs; and
  • With co-workers for recognition, both for ourselves and for our profession.

The list goes on and on. So why would I claim that these situations are not competitive encounters but are really creativity expanders? Because I think that we project managers too often sell ourselves short—both men and women! To be creative, we must have “the ability to respond to all that goes on around us, to choose from the hundreds of possibilities of thought, feeling, action, movement, passion and meaning” [1]. In a recent conversation with a fellow project manager, I realized that not all project managers perceive the world as I do. This was not a complete surprise. However, I thought I would share with you a letter I wrote regarding my thoughts and feelings on creating versus competing, which was a result of that conversation.

Dear Friend:

In a recent phone conversation we discussed some challenges you are facing as a professional, a project manager, and as a woman. That conversation set off a lively string of thoughts in my head after we hung up. It brought back many memories of my own challenges and how I worked through the growth process of overcoming them and blossoming into a seasoned, dynamic professional woman. I thought I would take the opportunity here to share my philosophies of life. Over the phone we cannot always do such things justice and actual person-to-person visits are always far too short.

The things shared here are life-long philosophies that I developed early and continue to live by. Possibly by sharing them, they will provide value and benefit to you in your project management activities and other daily dealings. The subject of our conversation was “Corn. petition versus Creativity.” After reading my thoughts on the matter you will understand why I am not in competition with anyone—ever. Nor do I ever intend to be, as it is an unproductive and self-limiting use of my precious energies.

“Competition” tome has always had a negative, misdirected connotation. That may sound strange coming from someone as highly driven as I am. However, even in all my years (17+) of intense “competing” in volleyball, I realized that it is not “outcompeting” or “annihilating” the opponent that wins the match. Rather, it is a matter of being more savvy and creative at planning, the execution of strategy, and the application of my unique talents, skills and experience. These are gifts that only I can bring to each situation because there is only one me in this world who has that specific blend of features— no one else. Using my unique gifts and “outcreating” the opponent not only wins the game but also develops new tools and skills that I can use to grow and stretch myself to meet future challenges.

This brings me to the subject of the opponent. There will be many people and circumstances in our lives that will make special contributions to our world. We must remember that all people and situations in our lives are important. None should be classified friend or foe, good or bad…rather, all are teachers.

There will be many easily recognized blessings to come our way, especially in our projects—such as having a strong project sponsor or mentor to carry the torch for our project and clear our path of obstacles. More importantly, though, are those people and projects that provide us the less obvious opportunities to create and grow, our so-called opponents. These might include passive resistance of team members or management, the behind-the-scenes sabotage of your career, or even outright verbal abuse of your efforts and contributions in front of peers at the hallway coffee machine.

These situations are our true teachers and the ultimate opportunities for us to kick the flow of our creativity into high gear. How we respond to them is our choice. Will we compete and fight back for a possible short-term victory? Or will we get creative and develop solutions that will provide us, and others, long-term growth opportunities and benefits?

It is the same in both professional and personal endeavors. When we are competing, either in career or relationships, we often succumb to playing games, thereby not staying true to our own creative intuitive guide. I refuse to play games. To do so would focus my energies on the wrong things, which are usually external objects that are out of my control. Such activities stunt my growth and limit realization of my full potential. It is a waste.

What is most fulfilling to me is to go within myself, stir those creative juices (which often boil wildly) and challenge myself to improve my own life, work, and most importantly, my service to others. Sometimes this is tough when the roadblocks seem endless and the mountains too high to scale. However, I maintain a long-term, positive perspective and know that the tough times always pass. I know at all times that the fulfillment of my dreams is already mine for the taking. With this attitude, I find the opportunities to be creative are endless and magic things begin to happen. The world is my oyster!

So you see, we are no competition to others in our lives. In fact, I like to give whatever assistance I can to others in their endeavors and success. When others win, I win. In competing we imply we are vying for a spot as a “replacement.” How can we do that?! We could never take the place of another just as we cannot be replaced. We are all unique creatures with our own creative contributions to make. By “creating” our way to our own destiny, rather than out-competing someone else out of theirs, we will find intense levels of professional success and personal fulfillment beyond our wildest imaginings. Don't compete— create!

Feel free to call me anytime. I always enjoy our conversations and hope these thoughtful ramblings will provide, in some way, what you need to help you through the challenges of the exciting, stimulating, intense, crazy times in which we live.

Remember … the best is yet to come!


1. Estes, Clarissa Pinkola, Ph.D. 1992. Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Ballantine Books.   ❏


Catherine L. Tonne, PMP, has over 14 years experience in managing environmental, DOD, corporate MIS and high-technology projects. She is employed by Integrated Project Systems of Belmont, California, as a professional associate working with high-technology companies to improve productivity, predictability and profitability through implementation of integrated project management.

Cathy holds a B.S. in environmental science and an M.B.A. in information science. She is active on the Not-them California PMI Chapter's Executive Committee and serves as the chapter vice president of marketing/membership.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • March 1994



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