By Drake Diamond, Washington D.C., USA
Over the past 6 months, as I’ve adjusted to the “real world” and life as an IBM consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a remarkable amount, – not only from my own experiences, but from others’ as well. Numerous lessons and methodologies come to mind, but today I want to focus on one seemingly simple-yet often overlooked-approach: frequently asking specific, pointed questions. Obviously, this is not a cure-all; I do feel, however, that this approach can and should be utilized more.
Looking back on my first 8 weeks, I can see that my thinking regarding seeking help was flawed. My approach, in short, was as follows: figure it out yourself. These tasks are seemingly not that difficult, and you don’t want to burden others with additional work. With the benefit of hindsight (20-20, as they say), this was a flawed approach. As a new hire, having been inundated with information and tasks (CbD training, deliverables, et al), I felt overwhelmed. And in short, more often than not, I chose the selfish, prideful approach rather than leveraging others experiences and advice. I finished my work, but it definitely could have been done more efficiently and accurately, had I taken a more humble approach.
At this point, I knew I needed to change. To do this, I made a concerted effort to engage my colleagues with my work, mainly by more frequently asking questions. Progress was made, but based on feedback from teammates, I could see that I could improve how I was asking the questions. Since my teammates were busy, asking pointed questions became imperative, so as to not waste their time. So I developed two simple rules which I tried to consistently apply: 1) If I can’t figure something out in ten minutes, seek help; and 2) Asking “can you provide an example?” or “can you walk me through this?” works wonders. Simply put, I oftentimes realized (after the fact) a gap between what I thought needed to be done and what actually needed to be done. The gap was a minor, yet essential detail. In short, my questioning needed to remove as much ambiguity as possible. Hence rule #2.
In one word, my first six months at IBM has been humbling. Being involved with talented, diligent people on a daily basis has forced me to ask better questions and to examine the thinking underlying my approach to work. Seeking help via clear, sharp questions has been essential to my development as a consultant. This is one of many lessons I’ve learned, and I hope to share more as we all journey into the future.
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