Being more present in our projects

In this article I argue for a means to identify if we are connected to other project actors by being present or simply having a role to play. Being is an active position. Having a passive or self orientated mode.

The concepts of “being vs having” are taken from Erich Fromm (1979) “To have or to be? : a new blue print for mankind” Reprint 1984 Abacus, Sphere Books, London. I also recommend the many YouTube videos hosted by cognitive scientist, John Vervaeke, to learn more about being present. It is insight I have taken into my daily life.

Erich Fromm admits immediately to the ideological endings to this book.  It is in three parts. The first two reflecting his wider psychoanalytic account of selfishness vs altruism, as two basic character orientations.  The third part moving more directly towards his politics, ideology, and societal solutions.  It is the first two parts, specifically the first ninety-four pages of this book, from which I present factors to inform commercial project thinking.

The key insights I present here are from Chapter II, “having and being in daily life” pp37 to pp54.  Fromm offers eight examples of having vs being. They each reflect how we are united or divided by perspectives on truth.

One: Having learning vs being a learner

(see next)

Two: Having mechanical vs being logical, in what is remembered

Fromm separates learning and remembering, but both offer context of attitude towards recall.  His examples are: the student attending lectures to learn the syllabus to pass exams: compared to, the learner who reads around the subject beforehand, engages with the lecture for more perspective, and takes all of this away to build upon more knowledge as the subject evolves.  Fromm also references Freudian free association to demonstrate what the being mode of remembering is.  This is application, not simply having recall.

Three: Conversation vs dialogue

To converse is to exchange perspectives.  It is presenting what was prepared or already known.  The second, is to be part of a process of shared enquiry towards a truth (pp42)

Four: Judgement of bias vs Information as fact

pp43-44 he contrasts forming a judgement vs acquiring knowledge.  The former is the means to receive information with the context and content choices of the messenger.  The second offers lines of thought that we accept.

Five: Having authority vs being an authority 

pp45-47 he distinguishes modes of authority.  One is rational and reflecting a competence, service, and one intended to help others to grow.  The other irrational, requiring subjugation; symbols of authority, propaganda, and cliché; intent on destroying means of critical judgement and increase dependency… “lose their capacity to trust their eyes and judgement”.

Six: Having knowledge or being open to better

Having knowledge is to own truth.  To know is to strive critically and actively in order to approach truth ever more closely, pp47

Seven: Faith in a thing vs faith in a process

We can have faith in an authority figure, an institution, an idea.  We can have faith in our ability to assess a situation by its range of possible outcomes.  The first is a submission, the second is an attitude derived from experience (pp49-51)

Eight: To have love vs to be loving

To have love is possessive, to be loving is an action.  Fromm focuses here on the early action based demonstrative love prior to the commitment by the other which then becomes more an attitude of shared ownership (pp51-54)

Applying this to projects

How much distance divides your project actors?

Across each of these eight categories of having vs being, there is a divide being identified.  This distance is a useful metaphor to consider project relationships.  As relationships move further into a having mode, so they further separate.  For example, in examining faith (pp47) Fromm distinguishes faith in an external object vs faith of being inside a process.  It is this distance that serves my application of these same concepts back into projects.

Division or separation? A project within a project

In this regard there is a point where this division becomes an interface where interests fully diverge.  Being part of a process changes completely into just playing a part.  I am proposing that this division, this separation into identifiable parts, becomes a separately definable project.  The one project now becomes two.

The having relationship is a more divided relationship.  Conversely, the more project actors are in being relationships, as outlined in the eight categories above, the closer they are.  By extremes therefore, they can become one entity, or at least a close approximation to it.  Or, they can be fully separated, and have have competing agendas or be in open in conflict.

The separation now leaves each project with its own being mode. Two being modes, now joined but via a having mode.  Both may intend to cooperate with the other, but not at the expense of their own project.  Returning to the example of faith, each is now an external object vs the shared faith of being inside a process.  If they are required to compete, a point arises as necessitating a win:lose result (in economics, a zero-sum game).

One final extreme can also now be considered.  Projects that are intent on causing harm to another.  Projects of espionage, counter-measure, or deceit.

Next steps

With this distance identified, and this having vs being modality contextualised, I will next bring several project concepts across this same modal perspective.  Three positions will be explored as follows:

  1. High Reliability Organisations in a project setting.  How distance is closed, and project actors become part of a process
  2. I will address a confused position I believe to exist when RACI type models are applied in complex multi-modal situations
  3. I will consider the evolving nature of a project and how “having modes” can become “being modes”, or vice versa.

Book reference.  Erich Fromm (1979) “To have or to be? : a new blue print for mankind” Reprint 1984 Abacus, Sphere Books, London

The cognitive scientist John Vervaeke has devoted many hours on YouTube sharing his wisdom.  Differentiating having and being, and flagging key books to read.  Including this one…

If you have made it this far, thank you.  Please comment, share, and subscribe.  This is a live and evolving enquiry.  This website and the Beardall.Blog are intended to prompt the being mode into a project. Aiming to help projects be more.  They are all projects | within projects.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: