I’ve been watching the newly-restored 1968 film Autopsy on a Dream about the building of the Sydney Opera House, the forced resignation of architect Jorn Utzon, and the building’s subsequent completion.
What’s extraordinary is how we seem to have failed to learn the lessons of this pivotal period in Australian history. You can remove the word ‘Opera House’ and insert (for example) the word ‘NBN’ and the sentence still makes sense.
But what was really interesting was how it struck me that you need five things to make any project a success:
- vision – that initial, often extraordinary, usually unreasonable view of what the future should look like, usually untainted by compromise
- strategy – the master plan for making it real. Without this, a vision remains an unrealized dream, and unrealized dreams are essentially worthless. You need the strategy to bring purpose to the vision. Think Sydney Opera House, think Apollo programme
- tactics – both the detailed work plan, and also the tactics needed to overcome difficulties and obstacles, not all of which need be contentious. In the case of the Opera House, the most famous example is the construction of the sails
- politics – the process of gaining popular support, and the process of heading off opponents. Remember that the word ‘politics’ is derived from the Greek for ‘of the people’, and for grand visions you need the implicit and explicit support of the people. Yes, this is also about politics in the modern meaning of the word, that of political intrigue and opposition. But it’s clear in the documentary that many members of the general public who were interviewed simply didn’t relate to the Opera House, and saw no need for it. This brings us finally to…
- communications, not so much the glue that holds things together, more the lubrication that ensures all the moving parts work together smoothly. Perhaps a better metaphor is that it’s like blood in a body, carrying oxygen throughout the system, and rejuvenating everything regularly (as well as healing wounds).
You need all five to be successful. The larger the project and the grander the vision, the more you need of all five.
Remove an understanding of how one of these works, and the project will falter.
Pay insufficient attention, or assign insufficient resources to one, and the project will falter.
Call it the ‘Opera House Equation’.