Be Ready to Expect the Unexpected

Unexpected changes in direction are not uncommon when starting new projects. At the get go, you inevitably have an idea of what you think the inputs and outputs of the project should look like. It’s easy to latch onto these expectations and garner a lot of momentum in one direction. It makes sense! It’s clear to you and the evidence for your direction is clear.

However, your idea of the inputs and outputs might conflict with the vision of your co-workers and bosses. When a conflict of visions occurs between your expectations and your bosses, its time to take a step back and reflect on the main goals and audience of the project to make sure you are working towards the right end goal.

Source: Canva

I recently experienced this first hand while working at the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT). As you might have read in my last blog post, IMT is a DC-based non-profit that promotes energy efficiency (EE) in commercial buildings. IMT recently received funding to explore how cities that have committed to clean energy goals think about and prioritize energy efficiency in their plans. I work on a three-person team to tackle this project, and we should have expected the unexpected.

Useful Disagreements
When starting to tackle this ambiguous project, our strongest initial argument was that 100% solar and wind would drastically increase system costs due to their intermittent nature, and that it would therefore be important to reduce total demand through efficiency measures to minimize the system cost. We thought it was crucial for cities to understand where they fit into the electric system to be able to make good decisions – but when we presented this approach to the project steering committee, they vehemently disagreed.

The directors’ perspective was that utilities are the actors responsible for grid maintenance, whereas cities just want to be green. Since our audience was cities, they insisted that we did not need to give all the grid context, that it would actually confuse the cities rather than help them.

We butted heads at first (though politely since I was still an intern at that point), but in the end the project team came to see the value in the directors’ perspective – one that we hadn’t adequately considered despite our best efforts. I think the project benefited greatly from that early disagreement and redirection (and I think the directors would agree).

Lessons Learned
To me, this was a lesson to seek directional guidance from colleagues with different perspectives, even when you think you have everything taken care of – and to seriously consider conflicting arguments based on their merit instead of holding on to what you think is right with a locked jaw. There are inevitably aspects of a problem that you’ll miss.

Source: Pexels

Some other lessons learned are:

  • Early and periodic check-ins with colleagues with outside perspectives can be useful to identify gaps in your approach
  • Don’t be ashamed to seek guidance from others
  • Civil discussions between team members with varying opinions can lead to constructive adjustments
  • Defend your position but listen to others
  • Your boss is not always right, just most of the time

Equipped with this knowledge, I welcome challenging new projects!

About jacobduncan

At Bard's Center for Environmental Policy, Jake uses his interdisciplinary education and diverse work background to analyze a wide range of environmental and energy focused policy solutions.