Project Takeover Blues 5: Conflicts of Interests, Pressures, Priorities

The absurdist drama of the later 20th century, plays like Samuel Beckett’s famous ‘Waiting for Godot’ and Harold Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’ usually carry rambling storylines which by design largely go nowhere.  At least when judged by the sequential and structured trajectories of traditional European storytelling.

For these absurdist dramatists it is not so much the destination, but rather what happens along the way in their plots that makes them interesting and successful. I was going to add ‘innovative’ also, but it struck me that the Jewish tradition of storytelling, stretching back some 3,000 years and more, has aspects in common with this absurdist drama.

For a basic understanding of what a Jew would want to obtain from her reading of a traditional Hebrew story you only need to go to The Bible, The Old Testament, with its fabulary stories like the events in the Garden with Adam and the Serpent, or else to the magic realism of The Book of Jonah.

Like an audience needs to do when it is watching a drama of Beckett’s or Pinter’s, Jews find in their stories not a naturalistic narrative with close verisimilitude to actual life and events,  but instead a figurative approach to learning about their religion and life in general. They ask themselves: ‘What is this story trying to convey to me; what is it offering; what is it aiming to teach me?’

Beckett and Pinter and their school above all share with the Biblical story makers an ability for deep close insight into human’s psychological states and the human condition in general.  It is this insight which allows their works to retain their value and to add value to the lives of those who experience them.

A foundational strand of human psychology which is developed in many of these stories might be loosely termed as the portrayal of ‘human characters talking across one another’, and ‘talking at crossed purposes’. The two facets of human interaction are rather different but are quite nearly related to one another.

‘Talking across one another’ entails an amount of self-absorption or even self-obsession, in two or more persons who appear prima facie to be in conversation; but who are in fact missing what the other is saying, and hearing only their own voice.

Usually this means that several different topics are being talked about at the same time; one by each person involved.  Their individual self –absorption often denies them the power to observe this is happening; or that no-one else is listening to them.  These abortive conversations are capable of going on for quite some time and their participants are able to come away from them being even yet oblivious of the absurd situation they have just played out.

In the drama of course this oddity is often built-up into a comic feature and at the same time carries a considerable amount of pathos leading to audiences sensing the tragedy inherent in such situations. The human existential aloneness of each of us; the impossibility of full human connectedness with one another

‘Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,

Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,

Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.’

The paradox in all this is the realisation of a liberation of the spirit which one is able to receive by way of one’s working to nurture and grow a self-awareness of one’s inevitable existential aloneness.  Such liberation is incomplete always, since one can never wholly know oneself or come to terms totally with whom one might be.  But the very fact of acknowledging one’s utter aloneness in the final instance, oddly enough begins to free oneself up from the oppressive spiritual weight of the loneliness of it all.

One result of obtaining some such self-awareness is that one is enabled to observe rather more clearly cases when conversations in fact become only occurrences of ‘ships passing in the night’, instances of ‘wholly missing one another’s point’.

However, how might any of this rarefied meditation apply to project takeovers?

Simply said: Many of the communications between developers and their clients fall into this category of being ‘talking at crossed purposes’

Trying to be a good communicator, like humility, is endless. The philosopher Karl Popper once said: ‘There is nothing I can say that cannot be misunderstood.’  But first and foremost a person must listen, and be listening, in order to have the slightest chance of understanding at least in part another person’s communication. One cannot listen whilst one is self-absorbed. An when one has one’s own agendas uppermost in one’s mind all the time one is conversing one becomes hamstrung for listening.

The diverse agendas of developers as set against their clients’ agendas are usually radically, perhaps irreconcilably, different.  The client is focused on delivery dates, on meeting deadlines and hitting milestones, so as to furnish monetisation and sales and marketing of his awaited products.  His money he has invested in his developer to make his project he considers to be dead money until the products are built tested signed off launched and making income for him.  Time then is of utmost importance. Speed even. He will be fussy so as to chivvy along as much as he can as much as possible. He may even out of anxiety be going over his developmental plans and refining them as he goes, thus doing what his developer will call ‘tinkering’ with the original specification and so on. Money and time being absolute priorities to the client he will be most reluctant to accept a later delivery date or to pay more so as to cover any such refinements he adds.

The developer is focussed on getting the project right. He will have a head full of code and future planning. He will be pressed for time; developers are always pressed for time. He will be managing any crew he has and catering to their needs so as to keep them sweet. He will want invoices paid promptly, in the form of the client’s understood to be dead money. The developer is also probably involved in researching and sourcing of raw material for use in building custom apps and themes; not just looking for customisable pre-built open source apps, but usually also for know-how and clear and useful tutorials to help him and his team do clean jobs. The role of developer is naturally expansive and amorphous being an unknown quantity in respect of how much time and work will actually be required on a project on any given day. He has to juggle time, and roles, and sequences, and configurations; he is not easily pinned down and cannot easily say definitely when, or sometimes what or how, right up front.

These two guys then, the developer and the client, coming together to speak and communicate with one another: is it any wonder that so many times they miss one another’s drift, their points, and points of view?

‘The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune   

Of a broken violin on an August afternoon:         

“I am always sure that you understand               

My feelings, always sure that you feel,               

Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand.’

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