April 21, 2010

New hires, ignorance and innovation

April 21, 2010 - Categories: ibm

It’s pretty amazing to think that at IBM, people value not only what I know, but what I don’t.

People tell me that the way that I work is very different from the way many people work. I bring a different perspective to work. I connect across business units and geographies. I share what I know. I share what I’m learning. I write a lot about what I’m thinking and how I work. I ask for help. I’m happy. I work with IBM, not just for IBM. I look for the bright side of things. I explain the big picture, and I find the big picture if I need to.

I don’t know that I’m supposed to be an IT specialist just working on code, or an entry-level employee who hesitates to talk to higher-ups. I refuse to learn that a big corporation should be soulless and passionless. Instead of learning cynicism and grudging compliance, I approach our standard paperwork with deliberate empathy and excitement, thinking about the reasons why people created these processes and about how I can use these processes to help me grow. I don’t know any other way to work except to reach out, learn, and share.

Ignorance can be useful. When you don’t have tried-and-tested ways to work, you’re forced to experiment. When you have a different set of perspectives, you can ask questions that test assumptions. When you’re new, you can help more experienced people think.

(And then people go: “Oooh, I hadn’t thought of that…” and then people experiment, and they end up working better too!)

The trick is to stay new; to keep that beginner’s mind, while sharing as much as you can of what you’re learning.

Why do I share this?

There must be many new people out there who are also coming in with a different set of perspectives, and who wonder what they can contribute to their companies. If you’re one of them: you can teach and learn at the same time.

There must be many people who worry about becoming ossified in their habits. If you’re one of them, remember: you’re new to something, too. Find out what you don’t know, and help people learn from that.

Ignorance can lead to interesting ideas! =)

Here’s a short presentation I made on the topic some time ago: