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Martha Orr Davenport
March 17, 1918 – October 10, 2017

Last week, my husband’s mother died, after a life well lived. At 99 ½ years, contemporaries are gone. Yet hundreds turned up to honor a remarkable woman who spent her life organizing and working on projects. In this short blog, I want to discuss a few project lessons that I learned from this ordinary, yet extraordinary, woman.

Flexibility is often required.

My mother-in-law was an accomplished collector of children’s books, and particularly interested in Little Red Riding Hood. She once arranged an educational children’s program on wolves at the Richmond City Library. The program featured a visit from Koani, a gray wolf, and his sidekick, Indy. They spent the night at her home, since local hotels were not very accommodating. Wandering through the stacks of an old library and into a program with young children, with a gray wolf and a dog, requires a certain amount of flexibility.

Project teams need to stay flexible. This is why I reject rigid project schedules that require an excessive amount of time to create and manage.

Curiosity and learning can open the door to new ideas

Macular degeneration stole most of her vision. But it never diminished her insatiable curiosity. Caregivers, engaging in frequent conversations with her, marveled at her requests that they “Google it” or “ask Siri.”

My mother-in-law grew up in South Carolina. She was a direct descendant of Gov. James L. Orr, who was the Governor during Reconstruction. He didn’t have a lot of raving fans. Yet, my mother-in-law, having observed almost a century of southern political, economic, and societal evolutions was able to cherish her Southern heritage and embrace a bold vision for this country and the world. This meant that our family had many conversations about her southern roots, alternative lifestyles that might challenge the average 99 year old, the choices to vote for the first black President, and the first woman President, and international happenings throughout the world, much of which she and her husband had visited.

Project teams perform better when they aren’t stuck in the past. This requires an open mind, some curiosity, and the ability to learn quickly.

We’re all human.

On the morning before the funeral, as I hosted out of town house guests, including a toddler and a new puppy, put the finishing touches on the funeral plans, readied my house for a large luncheon reception, and juggled several client responsibilities, I noticed a snake skin in an overhead light fixture. I can do a lot of things, but snakeskin removal is definitely not on my skill set list. When I returned to my office alcove, the snake skin had been draped over the TV. I let out a blood-curdling scream that could have been heard 25 miles away, five minutes before I needed to convene a standing meeting.

We live in a chaotic world, filled with changing technologies, competitive pressures, information overload, decision fatigue, concentration and communication challenges, artificial intelligence, and robots. Move than ever, we all need to remember our humanity. We need to embrace our loved ones, be kind to our co-workers, and treat with respect those who we cannot yet love or like.

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