Role of Emotions in Learning Failures

For while the Experience Trap article discusses some reasons for “learning problems” in complex projects, the role of stress and emotion on decision making breakdowns isn’t sufficiently highlighted.  We too often “react” to problems and “jump right in.”

IMO, these failures are often a function of our reliance on primitive brain structures in stressful situations (recent Science mag article here [sub required] and summarized here).  As PMs are put into new and more complex environments, their stress level almost inevitably increases, which throws us back on our most basic thinking (if we’re lucky).  Fight-or-flight can override even simple rules, see the comments in the Forex blog here.

Perhaps we should be paying more attention to promoting basic mental and emotion hygiene among PMs.   Lord knows I’ve experienced this issue when I’ve had to take on more responsibility.  My most effective techniques for problem-solving have nothing to do with problem-solving.  When I’d take a step back from an issue, “clearing my head” by taking a walk, or otherwise exercising restraint of tongue and pen, it is amazing how much better I could see connections and options that I had missed before.

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