IPMA International Project Management Association
18 August 2016 / 6:19

Against all odds – learning from great projectors: Daedalus and Icarus

With this article we continue a series of pioneers and projectors to learn from. You are all encouraged to write about great projectors out of your context so we may learn from them and improve our way of performing projects. “Projector” is a term introduced by Daniel Defoe in “An Essay upon Projects” (1697). It refers to people that “project” into the future and thus make them real. A true projector is “he who, having by fair and plain principles of sense, honesty, and ingenuity brought any contrivance to a suitable perfection, makes out what he pretends to, picks nobody’s pocket, puts his project in execution, and contents himself with the real produce as the profit of his invention.” History is full of those people, let´s make use of their stories by explaining the narrative behind.

During a visit at Crete I saw the statue of Daedalus and his son Icarus, both famous figures of the Greek mythology. Homer was the first who mentioned Daedalus and the labyrinth he created for the King Minos of Crete at Knossos. The intention of Minos was to keep the Minotaur in it but finally it was Daedalus who was kept in the Labyrinth. The name “Daedalus” refers to what we nowadays call an “Engineer”. He was kept in a tower in the Labyrinth with his son and was trying to find a way out of the prison. He fabricated artificial wings for his son Icarus and himself in order to escape from the island. The wings were made out of feathers, strings and wax. They looked like real wings of birds and should bring both to other places far away from Crete. Daedalus told his son not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun would melt the wax, nor too low, because the sea foam would soak the feathers. According to the Metamorphoses of Ovid they started and passed the islands of Samos, Delos and Lebynthos but Icarus forgot what his father has told him. He came to close to the sun, the wax melted and he fell into the sea and drowned. Daedalus cried and felt guilty of having killed the son by his own arts. The island where Icarus drowned close by is today called “Icaria”.

DSC01016What do we learn from this story? There is always “a way out”. Projectors are “problem solvers”, they can overcome difficult challenges, but always need to see the risks associated with the solutions created. Neither “flying too low” or “flying too high” is an option and brings all participants in danger. Thus, analyse the risks and stick to the advice given by the “engineers” who know best the limitations of their inventions. Daedalus was aware of the limitations and warned Icarus. However, his son was so passionate and rebellious that he forgot all the warnings and drowned in the sea.  

1 Comment

  • Ivano Di Filippo says:

    There’s a need to convey efficiently the new information, the new way of working. Leaders might convey an information in the wrong way so to give as results a few or null acceptance by team members of the new rule.
    So after analyzing the risks connected to the new solution created, might
    be opportune to know what are the insight channel of every team member in order to give them the information in a way he can cognize it.
    Transformational leadership style is desirable in order to get the motivation to team members to act and work differently.
    Cognitive readiness is requested by the project manager and team member in order to adapt and quickly comply with new mode limiting personal interpretations (biases).

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Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 35 years in the field of project-related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Automotive, Engineering, and Consultancy, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, a leading PM Consultancy in Munich/Germany, he supports executives of industrial clients in transforming their companies towards a project-oriented, adaptive and sustainably successful organization. Reinhard Wagner has published 36 books as well as several hundred articles and blog posts in the field of project, program and project portfolio management. In more than 20 years of voluntary engagement he served the German Project Management Association (GPM) as well as the IPMA in various roles and was granted for his international commitment with the Honorary Membership of several IPMA Member Associations.