Why imperfection is perfection when writing a consortium project proposal
"Viewing every decision as final raises the stakes, and causes you to get stuck trying to find the perfect answer. In the process, you keep digging for more reasons it won’t work."
- Thomas Oppang in a Medium post
What slows down the consortium research project proposal development process is delayed responses to requests to write out project elements such as tasks, milestones, and deliverables.
It may very well be that everyone is just so busy that spending the 20 minutes it will take to write out a task is just impossible. However, a concern that what you write might be wrong or imperfect probably also plays a role.
Feedback is the fuel for collaboration
We have all had the experience of working hard on a manuscript, submitting it and then having it criticized by reviewers.
I once had the experience of having a group of reviewers that I had present to in order to get approval to use a clinical research facility laugh at what we wrote in the application. Never mind that it had been approved by both the NIH and an ethics committee.
It still hurt.
That was in the early part of my career. Now having to deal with the chaos of pulling together proposals as I do, I see the vital value of getting your thinking out there no matter how imperfect it is.
Writing your thoughts down is itself a way of thinking. Some are said to think with their fingers.
If you hold back and wait for it to be perfect, there is no time for others to look at what you wrote and either add their parts or make changes.
Having time to translate your science into 'proposal speak'
Proposal speak is like a difference language.
Often the result of efforts to go from language of science to that of proposal speak is a lot of vague 'blah, blah' text.
That will not convince reviewers.
The sooner you get something down the quicker someone like myself can help translate your language into proposal speak.
By and far, the best proposals I see come through are from those who get something down on paper very quickly even if it is long-winded.
This works because it gives others the opportunity to build upon what you wrote.
How and when to write out your tasks
The next time you are asked to write a task just sit down and do it all in one go.
It almost should not be anything more than you already know and is in your head.
If you really want to be proactive think about the types of tasks you and your group would like to do and write them out even when you have not been assigned to do so.
Or make that an exercise for your PhD, postdocs and fellows.
What you or your team write does not have to be perfect. In fact, like good science, a good project plan is never finalised. It should always be open to adaptation.