David Schmaltz

When I was seventeen, I read a book about the Northwest Native American practice of sending each young man into the woods to wander alone until he experienced an extraordinary event. The young man would take his name from this event, and this name would define his role in society.

Shortly after reading this, I hiked into a small valley in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon – a valley where Sasquatch had been sighted. I intended to stay several days if necessary, as long as it took to find my name.

My camp was comfortably set beside a clear stream, where I found an abundant supply of well-seasoned firewood. I kept the fire burning late into the night, and as the sky grew darker, the noises from the surrounding neighborhood grew louder. My imagination took flight. I envisioned platoons of angry sasquatches rolling boulders down the rockfall behind my camp. I heard rabid badgers plotting against me. Skunks sulked suspiciously. Even the bull trout in the stream exuded evil intent.

I spent an uncomfortable night in these surroundings. I finally found a self-defensive sleep and woke with an amazed start to warm sun and no physical evidence of the threat posed so convincingly a few hours before. Then I left.

For years I felt as though I’d left the mountains before experiencing my extraordinary event. If I had found my name, it would have to be “Flees From Noises In The Night”.

Later, as a performer, I learned of the audience noises from the darkness behind the lights &endash; noises which I discovered could have any meaning I associated with them. A rustle could mean either excited anticipation or cynical boredom. Applause could mean either satisfaction or disgust. It took me a while to learn how much it was I who defined the meaning of these noises in this new night.

Again I fled, but only until I figured out there was no safety in fleeing. “Flees From Noises In The Night” found that if he carried a direction into the engagement, the noises could propel him where he wanted to go rather than into random disarray. Useful information about his role in society.

Then, searching for the name for my new firm, I received the following comment when I consulted the I Ching :

“To keep your bearings in the aftershock of either trauma or victory, it is essential that your inner compass be aligned with “true north,” that magnetic force which guides you toward fulfillment of both your deepest desire and highest destiny.”

So, my name may be “Flees From Noises In The Night,” but as long as my inner compass remains aligned with my True North, my fleeing will not mislead me. Just as in the context of project work, maintaining connection with that inner compass reading is essential to success.

The Native Americans believed that names carry great power, that we are not just known by our names but defined by them. I have no idea where this emerging adventure will carry me, but I now have a clear sense of my direction. There is no remaining ambiguity about my course. I am headed north, corrected for magnetic deviation. True North.

My new project management course (Project Mastery) is not designed to teach people how to manage projects because I don’t believe that’s something that I can teach anyone to do.

The course is designed instead to teach people how to teach themselves how to do it. This means helping folks discover their inner compass and develop their own understanding of how to correct for their own normal magnetic deviations.

Piloting a project requires more than dead reckoning, a process which was designed more to reassure than inform. Piloting a project requires an orientation in the world, a clear sense of where you are relative to your project, and within the context of the sponsoring organization.

These concepts fit well with an organization called True North. You will find me there. I have shared my new vision with my clients and found them uniformly supportive. An enormous load has evaporated. My sails are unfurling, the fog lifting, and the tide has turned, leaving me free to set a more purposeful course.