ProjectWorld Keynote: Ret. General Russel L. Honoré
This is my site Written by Alora on November 26, 2008 – 7:02 pm

The other keynote I attended at ProjectWorld was General Russel L. Honoré, (Ret), Commander of JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA. This was another one that didn’t hold a particular appeal beforehand, but proved very interesting – and for reasons that I never would have expected.

Here are two video clips of his talk. His central point is that, as a culture, we have become too conditioned to expending effort responding to crisis, rather than less effort up-front preventing them. It was a valid point that raised some interesting questions.

It’s not hard to understand how a man who has had the career of General Honoré would feel this way. And, as project managers, one of the things we are taught from the very beginning of our careers is that preventing a problem (‘in the design phase’) is exponentially less expensive than waiting to deal with it after the fact. Yet his point raises interesting questions, particularly around the rights to privacy.

He gave some very compelling examples from the post-Katrina clean-up of New Orleans – everything from senior citizens who had to be flown to Atlanta and then have full blood panels run in order to determine what kind of medication they needed, to children who had been raised not to talk to strangers refusing to cooperate with authorities and having no other way of putting them back in touch with their parents.

All in all, I found his speech a tremendous source of consideration. For the first time I understood the underlying philosophy that causes someone to take positions on issues that put him squarely on the “Democrat” side of some issues (education, healthcare, energy policy, etc.) and on the “Republican” side of others (defense, welfare reform, etc.). It was the first time I could see a congruent philosophical underpinning to what I have always seen as diametrically opposed views on individual issues (simply because I was looking at them through a more conventional “liberal vs. conservative” prism).

What was most interesting of all was the extent to which it forced me to examine what my underlying, non-political philosophies really are. I’ve been very lazy about using stock definitions, but the truth is that they don’t really apply very well and I’ve been remiss in examining them more closely.

All in all, aside from his exceptional points about the value of prevention and the need for preparedness, he had a couple of other very valuable points and themes:

“See First. Understand First. Act First.” This one has obvious business implications, and his repeated point was that the whole purpose of a business is to solve a problem. A business that does it well, efficiently and at a price point that it is worth the cost to consumers has the makings of a successful business. Businesses that are only addressing “wants” instead of “needs” are always at risk, especially in a bad economy.

And, to quote the General: “Who was the second person to invent the light bulb?” Answer: “Who gives a shit?” Hee. Fair enough.

He threw out an interesting statistic that I want to investigate further, but that went to his point about prevention: he said that 84% of medical dollars are spent on on-going health issues due to lifestyle factors (i.e. weight related diabetes, smoking related lung disease, etc.). I am going to have to research this one some more, because that’s a horrifying enough statistic that, if it’s true, would be shocking in its implications. (On the other hand, that number would explain why Empire Blue Cross of California finally agreed to pay for my weight loss surgery back in 2003, after nearly three years of dragging their feet.)

All in all, I found the General a very compelling speaker and a bit of a character. My last note on his talk is the one that he started with, and that is the heart of what a project manager’s job really is: GFJD.

For those that weren’t there, that stands for “Get the F’ing Job Done.”

Truer words were never spoken.