John Bradshaw, the author of a new book titled Dog Sense (a book focused on understanding dog behavior) was on a show a few days ago explaining how the military is using working dogs to help in missions and counter terrorism.  One of the very fascinating insights into the discussion was the author’s explanation of how dogs are trained in the military.  He was expressing his surprise to learn that contrary to the way that the military trains humans where the focus is on putting them through very rigorous and painful drills, training dogs was a lot softer in its approach and focused on reward rather than punishment.

That discussion got me thinking about all the various training workshops in the market place with the title “bootcamp” with what I suspect includes an implicit promise to put participants through a hellish experience similar to the one that military personnel go through.  The whole idea behind a bootcamp like training in military circles is to transform a civilian into a well disciplined soldier. Bootcamp in management training circles on the other hand seems to indicate an immersion style workshop  again intended on transformation but not necessarily with the same rigor as that of the military.

This whole idea of bootcamp though got me thinking about how we in project management indoctrinate new practitioners into the ranks of the profession.  There are some individuals who I’ve interacted with who believe that in order to allow individuals to become proficient in the practice of project management we have to somehow put people through a hellish set of conditions similar to those in the military to allow for that transformation.  The notion here is that people start out without any sort of fitness for the job and only a rigorous set of discipline can beat them into proper shape.  However, I’ve never been one to support this perspective.  If the gentle treatment during the training of dogs works so well, why won’t it work for humans.

I recall instances in MBA programs where the candidates are expected to study for long hours, participate in group exercises for prolonged periods of time, and be a bit isolated from the rest of the world.  In fact, we can see similar behavior exhibited in some reality shows on TV these days.  They all share the same perspective that with pressure you end up transforming people and separating the good from the bad performers.  Again here I suspect that these techniques are not as scientific as they are perhaps entertaining to the outsider.

I wonder if there is indeed scientific proof to demonstrate that with this kind of grueling ritual and schedule leaders can expect better results from performers.  Until such time that this proof is provided, I will continue to advocate for a different type of approach for indoctrinating individuals into the profession and indeed into the business world.  A system that is more focused on rewards on long term results for in the end, sustainable success in project management is more like a marathon than a hundred meter dash.