Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lessons in Communication from "Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears"

I don't remember reading this book as a child, but this was one of my husband's favorites so it came along with a batch of books that his parents saved for him. We've enjoyed reading it to our kids, and I think there are some good lessons here that can be applied to project communication.

To summarize, a mosquito brags to an iguana that he spied a farmer digging yams as big as mosquitoes. The iguana says "I would rather be deaf than listen to such nonsense", and puts sticks in his ears and heads off through the jungle. The friendly python says good morning to the iguana, but after getting no response from the iguana, assumes that he is plotting some mischief against him. The python then looks for the first place he can find to hide, and shoots into a rabbit hole. The rabbit sees the snake and gets frightened, and runs across the clearing. The crow saw the rabbit, and flew into the forest crying an alarm. A monkey hears the crow and leaps through the trees, accidentally killing a baby owl. When the mother owl returns to find one of her babies dead she is so shocked and distressed that she is unable to wake the sun each day with her hooting. The nights grow longer, and when the King Lion calls a meeting to get to the bottom of the situation, the chain of events is traced back to the source of all the trouble — the pesky mosquito. Finding the culprit satisfies the mother owl, who calls the sun back again. But, the mosquito is forever plagued with a guilty conscience, compelling him to forever be a pest.

I'd like to focus less on the mosquito who started it all, and more on the iguana and the pyton, and the other animals afterwards. When the iguana didn't answer the python, the python thought that the iguana was plotting something evil against him. He then went to hide. The rabbit saw the python, she thought something was very wrong (and was scared of the python too) and scurried off. This continues, without anyone stopping to try to find out what was really wrong. Each animal just makes assumptions without asking any questions, and this ultimately leads to the death of a baby owl and prolonged darkness. Now, let's believe the story and accept that animals talk to each other, the python did not try to find out what was really wrong with the iguana, and neither did any other animal afterwards. All went on assumptions without taking time to ask.

In the same way while working with a group on a project, it can be easy to make assumptions without asking more questions. This can easily lead a team member down the wrong path, resulting in wasted time and effort. People should not be afriad to ask questions of others in the group if there is something they do not understand, and the leader should always try to make information as crystal clear as possible. The sooner the misinformation is caught, the less damage that will be done, both in the real jungle...and the jungle that is your project.


Anonymous said...

Good points Dina. This reminds me of the person who wrote, "Everything I need to know about life, I learned in Kindergarten."

Anonymous said...

Great story and a very valuable lesson in project management. A regular status meeting will greatly prevent miscommunication turning into an unnecessary issue.

Dina said...

Thanks to you both!