Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A great project design?

I was struck by a thought when watching Terrence McNally on television as he spoke about the new production of his play, The Master Class. He mentioned learning about the linkage between teacher and student in the new version of the play, as the star Tyne Daly interacted with the master class students on stage, and he mentioned his pleasure in hearing his lines delivered even better than he imagined when he wrote them. The play won the Tony for best play when it was first introduced on Broadway.

Tyne Daly on stage
It occurred to me that a great play is open in the sense that others in the production can bring their own genius to its production, that different directors can make riveting theater with different interpretations of the text, that different casts can find different depths in the characters and different beauties in the lines. New companies are making Shakespeare's plays live five centuries after they were first performed.

I suppose there is a similar aspect of great pieces of music, in that a piece can have many great interpretations. Why are there many recordings of a Beethovan symphony, a Verde Opera, or a Chopin etude? Is it not that different conductors, different orchestras, different artists find new riches in the same scores?

Perhaps that is the way we should consider the design of development projects. A project paper might be seen as an open document in the sense that the people implementing the project can and should go beyond the specific content of the paper, responding to the evolving specific circumstances that they face, using their own genius to bring excellence to the implementation of the project. A great project design might then be seen as one that gives range to people to achieve a great implementation and indeed encourages the implementers to greatness!

I recall Jack Donoghue, who taught me about community development at Michigan State University, telling me about a successful community development project which consisted only of refusing a community development contract by publicly dressing down the community leaders for not working together. That is the extreme in sending a group forward to work on a project in an open manner, with strong (if unconventional) motivation.

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