Hello SOTGC community,
Most of us know that expanding our knowledge and trying new things can really help us excel in our chosen field. Developing new skills through formal training or by getting involved in a cross functional team or a volunteer effort can be huge boosts to our resumes and careers.
But more than looking good on your resume or being a way to gain visibility, personal and career development can lead you to having greater insight when solving problems, which ultimately will accelerate your success even quicker.
A few years ago, I was leading a project within my company to develop a process for forecasting, tracking and reporting the spending on projects associated with information systems. The projects previously were not tracked on a regular basis, project managers simply told management if they were on budget or not, often delaying bad news. One of my main responsibilities, along with developing the process, was training the project managers on how to use the system to input and update their data.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of resistance to the process. The level of scrutiny on the budget of these projects had been so minimal, project managers didn’t focus much time or effort on it. And it wasn’t their main area of expertise. They were focused on implementing information systems efficiently and effectively.
I had to find a way to get the project managers on board in order for my project to be successful and to get management the oversight they wanted. I knew if I just walked them through the process, it wouldn’t be enough. They wouldn’t see the value and they would only see it as an added burden on their time.
After a yoga class one night where we worked our way into a difficult pose – full lotus – by doing many other poses that didn’t seem at all related, but ultimately created flexibility in the muscles needed for full lotus, I had a breakthrough. The project managers needed to be eased into the new process with other tasks and work that they would benefit from, even without the process. I needed to approach preparing the project managers the way my yoga instructor prepared us for full lotus pose, which we didn’t even know was coming. She used sun salutations, eagle pose, pigeon pose and warrior poses to strengthen and stretch our muscles and challenge our mental capacity for tough poses, so when it came time for full lotus, we didn’t have any physical or mental resistance.
I worked with the project managers on ways they could keep better track of their expenses, creating reports and metrics they could follow, all using data from the system they would be inputting their forecasts in to get them comfortable with using it. We talked about the importance of management oversight into spending and knowing what major expenses were coming in any given period. By the time I walked them through new forecasting process and explained everything it would entail, there wasn’t much resistance.
This story is a great example of one of the biggest keys to having true insights – you need to be able to make connections across seemingly unconnected worlds. The larger you grow the breadth of your knowledge, the easier it becomes for you to make these connections, applying concepts and learning from one area to another. I was able to use my experience in yoga – something not at all related to the forecasting process I was working on – to have a successful implementation.
Andrew Hargadon referred to taking knowledge from one area and using it in another as “bridging small worlds” in his book How Breakthroughs Happen. This is how Henry Ford developed the assembly line, by taking processes and practices from other industries and mashing them up to create a brand new industry: automated manufacturing. Hargadon chronicles how Ford did this in the book. It is a great read for anyone interested in learning more about the background of breakthroughs.
How can you increase the number of “small worlds” you have access to?
1. Reading, listening and watching – This is the easiest way to gain new information on a multitude of subjects. Read books, magazines or websites. Listen to audio books or podcasts. Watch documentaries or TV specials. There are numerous ways to learn about anything and everything you could be interested in.
2. Formal learning – Classes, seminars, or workshops are available on many topics and can be a great way to get training from those with years of experience. Check out your local colleges to see if they offer continuing education courses or take online classes.
3. Networking – Talking with others can give you a level on insight into a job functions, skill or area that you could only otherwise get by becoming an expert yourself. People are usually more than willing to talk about themselves and what they do, so you not only learn, but you make them feel good as well.
4. Hands on experience – The best way to learn something new is to do it. Actually stepping into a role, practicing a skill, or performing a task gives you most information you can get about that thing.
Don’t focus on the small worlds associated with business. As I found out, experience with something completely outside of business – yoga – helped me be more successful at work.
Learn about science, food, health, coding, publishing, movie making – anything that you have an interest in is worth pursuing. Even if you just read a book or magazine article about that topic, it will give you a little more knowledge about a world that you previously didn’t know about. And that information could be what you need to make a seemingly random connection across worlds, which ultimately makes a massive impact on your work.
Take the opportunity this week to expand the worlds you have knowledge in by picking up a new magazine, watching a documentary or having a conversation with someone in a field completely different than your own.
Let us know what you learned and how you can apply it in your own life by leaving a comment below – which also expands the knowledge of the SOTGC Community as a whole!