“Blessed are those who flexible.” – Ms. Roussel, my religion teacher joking about the Beatitudes
*not physically flexible
Key Lesson: Pivot
As annoyed as I am about how much this class overuses this word, I’ve come to understand and appreciate its meaning. Pivot, also known as flexibility and adaptability, is important in all situations. It’s useful in school and in the real world. It’s not like some other skills that are only valued in classes but not in the workplace or vice versa. Pivot is applicable in all scenarios in life because all of life is uncertain and always changing. After reflection, I can recognize the pivot moments of this project, in the classroom and in country.
Changing plans is always frustrating. When something external changes, you lose control. All the plans made before could become useless, and you are going to have to come up with a new game plan that accommodates this change. A simple example: Naty was taking a couple of us to a nearby internet cafe, but when we arrived to the cafe, we found out that they weren’t open until later in the day. We were all very compromising and understanding, and decided to just go to next closest cafe. In this case, pivot can be observable in a leisure setting. In a more professional sense, we were required to pivot when we found out in country, that information we had be working off of had been incorrect and outdated. When preparing the scope back in Pittsburgh we were told that there had been no new plans for the pool. We prepared questions and potential suggestions with that in mind. However, when we got to CEOLI we were surprised to find out that the pool didn’t only have new plans for renovation and expansion, they were already getting to work. The day we arrived, CEOLI had already starting hammering at the pool. Another piece of news we got was that the water purification project, something we expected to conduct analysis and offer recommendations on, was also a terminated project. Thus, we had to rearrange our team and replan our course of action. As part of the pool team, we also had to restructure our questions quickly so that we could maximize the amount of information about the new pool and their expected operations. As you can see, pivoting is an essential component to any business project, because you never know what could go wrong. Furthermore, another business application of pivot occurred when we were walking to the playground for some downtime. We passed by a local swimming pool and we immediately turned around and asked to go in quick to get some information. We wanted to get a better understanding of the competition that CEOLI had to face. We were able to obtain some pricing and class information, and we were also able to get a general look and feel of the competitor pool. By getting a better understanding of the market and the competition, we can provide better and more relevant recommendations. This situation was also a form of pivot because we were thinking fast and didn’t miss out on an opportunity. You never know when an opportunity or a challenge could suddenly appear, so it’s important to stay aware and alert, in order to react appropriately and effectively. Coming back, we also faced issues where we were required to pivot. Because our scope of work was not accurate to the actual situation in Bolivia, the deliverables on paper weren’t the deliverables that we wanted to deliver. For example, there was so much more we wanted to accomplish with the pool, but we were restricted in a way because of our narrow scope. However, we accepted the fact and learned to present as much as we wanted to deliver in a way that fit in with our initial scope. We also face conflicting legal obstacles and differing stakeholder opinions. Juggling these required a degree of pivot too, so that we could satisfy all.
I learned the importance of pivot in business, and in life in general. “Blessed are those who are flexible.” People who can pivot don’t get caught up in problems or miss opportunities. People who can pivot take advantage of opportunities and know how to steer through difficult and messy situations.
Career Application: Dynamic Environment
As mentioned earlier, pivoting is important casually in everyday life and professionally in a business setting. The key is to understand and accept that environments exist as a dynamic system, constantly changing under our noses. To handle a dynamic situation, one must also be dynamic and change quickly with the situation.
Dean Murrell, Nikki, and I got into a heated debate one day, during class and after class. Nikki and I wanted to acknowledge the “error” we had made in the “miscommunication” and “lack of communication” with CEOLI. We were upset that we had made that “mistake” and from that disappointment, we wanted to improve and prevent that from happening again. Murrell’s argument was different. She argued that labelling something as an “error” was the wrong way to go about evaluating the situation. We couldn’t understand for the longest time why. We even stayed behind after class to discuss it. In the end, I finally understood her argument. Essentially, evaluating a “mistake” is useless. It is a waste of time and effort to try to discover the root of an error. What is actually important is figuring out how to fix the problem, how to move forward from the situation. By calling it an ‘error’ you are stuck in the past and what you should’ve done, instead of what you can do now. After understanding, I thought that it was a really interesting argument and that it actually made a lot of sense. Realizing that will help me better direct my time and energy when I am placed in a stressful situation and have to make quick decisions. This related back to the dynamic environment because when things change and when things go wrong, it is so natural for people to want to find out the root and to find something or someone to blame. Meanwhile, it would be more efficient and useful to think forward on how to solve the issue.
I think this realization will help be a better and more cooperative team player and a better leader. There really is no need to administer blame because it is in the past already, and no amount of thinking can change that. In addition to the ability to pivot, this new understanding of “error” and its futility will improve my conflict management skills in stressful situations. I can be a more efficient and active member because of this new forward thinking.
(Somewhat relevant story: I actually witnessed this new idea that night when I got home. My friends brought news of drama back home. I used to be a Science major back in UBC and I was an active member and executive of the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS), a student government. They were campaigning for elections and some non-constructive unhealthy criticisms were shared outside of and within SUS. It was clearly very toxic and much of the blame was being pushed onto the President. At first I was very upset and angry, because the President and many of the executives were also my friends. I recognized that the society wasn’t perfect but many people were greatly under-appreciating what these individuals do. However, I had a lightbulb moment when I cooled off. This was exactly what Dean Murrell was talking about. Everyone was just pointing fingers, instead of contributing to actual change, especially those who aren’t even involved in SUS and have no idea about its inner workings. People just wanted someone to blame, and the easiest and most obvious option was the President. I clearly understood Murrell’s philosophy after that. I could see that this was going nowhere. It was super unproductive and even counterproductive. People were complaining about the weak community but at the same time their negative comments were just contributing to the toxicity.)
Expectations vs Reality
We basically all wrote about a challenge being the language barrier. None of us spoke Spanish, and we assumed that communicating our ideas clearly and building relationships with CEOLI staff would be challenging. I specifically highlighted verbal, non-verbal, and relationship building areas of communication. I honestly expected there to be a huge difficulty with the language barrier, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
One reason for this was definitely because we had translators who helped us bridge that gap. However, overall, it wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I think it’s because I underestimated the power and the ability of people to pivot. People are generally accommodating and that’s how our conversations flowed in Bolivia. First of all, the translators would fill in the gaps, but both parties were both very understanding and patient during the exchange of conversation. There would be times when we or they would have to repeat themselves, and everyone was always very willing. I think mental preparation also played a huge factor, for our team and CEOLI. We were both aware of the language difference and we all expected the barrier. Having that in mind, we all came in more prepared and more understanding, than otherwise. I greatly underestimated the flexibility of both parties. Yes, the language was a challenge, but it was not as unsurmountable as I thought. It was actually quite easy to navigate through conversations, with the help of translators, of course. Relationship building wasn’t 100% effective, but it wasn’t as dismal as I expressed either. I feel like we actually got along pretty well with the staff and kids at CEOLI. It did not rely so much on our words, as it did on our actions and attitudes. Actions do speak louder than words.
The expectations of strong team building skills were confirmed, as well. I mentioned in my first blog about the potential challenges of organizing and navigating such a large team. However, luckily, we were not faced with too many conflicting opinions or situations. The experience definitely tested our trust in a team environment though. We all come from three different organizations and were unfamiliar with each other. A lot of trust was asked of everyone. We had to trust each other to complete their responsibilities in the project, and we did. Nobody’s abilities were every questioned and there was never an issue with stepping on each others’ toes. In addition, it was very beneficial that we were all very passionate and invested in the project. Everyone just wanted to offer our best to CEOLI, and that kept us all working towards the same common goal. The common goal kept us united and focused. In fact, because of that, we never even formally assigned strict roles and responsibilities. We were separated into teams and each team had the flexibility to conduct their research and analysis as they saw fit. This was as a result of trusting each other to do their very best. I believe the common drive and passion was essential to our success as a team.
In conclusion, I feel that I over exaggerated on the challenges and underestimated our and CEOLI’s ability to adapt to different situations. Most of the real challenges came from the situations I discussed earlier in this blog. The changing environment really threw me off until I finally accepted and adjusted to the dynamic nature of the project.