Crossing the River of Denial Under Extreme Pressure

Crossing the River of Denial Under Extreme Pressure

Be careful not to drown in a mirage.” — Terri Guillemets

Last week I wrote about denial as a potential cause of engineering failures. I have seen too often that otherwise rational people under great pressure come to irrational conclusions.

For example, I have worked with projects whose team members are under great pressure to meet a deadline. There is ample evidence that the team will not reach the deadline with all the content they have promised. Key suppliers have failed to provide the vital elements they need to complete the work. One of their key technologies has failed to achieve the performance desired. On top of all of that, they have an estimated 30 weeks of work to complete in 10 weeks.

I asked, “Will you be done on time? If yes, how do you know?”

They answer, “Yes, we will be done. We know we will be done because we know we have to be.”

I asked readers to write in about how to avoid becoming a sane person who comes to insane conclusions. Readers wrote in. Here are the top five answers merged with the advice I provide to my clients.

  1. Collect data that is meaningful and useful.  Focus on data that is predictive of outcomes.
  2. Believe your data. When your data says you are significantly behind schedule, do not ignore it. Accept it. When you feel that the technical risk is high and is likely to happen, believe it.
  3. Seek a trusted objective viewpoint. Your sense of time and space can be warped by the great pressure you are under. Seek the wisdom of someone you trust who is outside the pressure cooker. What do they think? Believe them.
  4. Listen to your body.  Ask yourself if the project is in trouble. If your words say that the project is fine, but your stomach is in a knot, your shoulders are tense, and your neck hurts, recognize the discordance within yourself. Listen to it.
  5. Speak up. Denial in these environments is practiced en masse. No one is saying anything because no one else is.  Speak up and watch the river of denial evaporate.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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“I like constructive criticism from smart people..”― Prince

When creating something new, whether it be a book, a new marketing campaign, or a new software system, many people have a tendency to want to do it “all by themselves”.

There is a hesitation to engage others and get early feedback on unformed ideas or unpolished work. There is a belief that seeking criticism will sidetrack the process of creation and a reluctance to reveal a product that is in its working stages.

Perhaps people develop this aversion because of previous bad experiences.

I know that I personally have been in situations where I was required to have early-stage product reviews and then received a lot of useless feedback. The worst part was that, according to the process, I had to follow up on each useless item with each reviewer. I had to either make the change or justify why I was rejecting it.

I know others who have received significant feedback that was full of “judgment” which was difficult to recover from. They felt that the feedback they received was aimed at tearing down the product rather than giving them useful suggestions for improvement.

So I understand the aversion. Critics can create speed bumps or even roadblocks when their criticism isn’t contained within the boundaries of our real needs.

Yet how do you know if you are on target without this early feedback?

To get speed boosters that accelerate your path to true value, you need to have critics you can trust.

Here are three keys to finding trusted critics who will actually propel your ideas to the destination desired.

  • Let people know exactly the kind of feedback you need. Don’t allow people to give you grammar feedback when you are providing an outline of an idea.  You want feedback on the idea itself!
  • Seek people with the skills and experience to provide feedback appropriate for the current stage of the product. Some people are great at seeing the big picture of how your idea can be made stronger.  Others are great at polishing the final draft into publishable gold.
  • Build your group of trusted critics and treat them wonderfully.  As you find the critics that propel you to greatness, you will find that they will rely on you as well.  This is a life long source of wow.

Let the seeds of your ideas get the healthy rain of constructive criticism and watch them flourish and grow.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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