Observations of a new starter

Hi, I'm new here.

I found myself in a lift recently, frantically pressing the button which should lead me to floor 26, where I was about to start my new job. Except for the button briefly flashing blue, nothing happened. People entered, the doors closed and we ascended quickly – all the while I was still pressing said button, looking out for a device to swipe my temporary card. Eventually, the lady next to me with a distinctly pitiful look in her eyes swooped across to the other side of the lift, swiped her card near another set of buttons and pressed on floor 26. Smiling faces all around me – at least some sort of achievement on this Thursday morning.

How do we balance confidence and failure?

The first days and weeks in a new job often put starters into the heart of an odd little Catch-22 of confidence and failure: How do we display the confidence to show early on how we can add value to the team - while we fail to operate the lift, call people wrong names and struggle to keep up with the company’s glossary? How can we be confident when we constantly fail? 

Luckily, "failure" is only a matter of perception: it applies only in cases where we a) do not recognise we are wrong, b) do not learn anything from the experience and c) do not apply our learnings subsequently. If we apply our new knowledge as often as possible on the way to an outcome, we reduce the risk of a big-bang failure.

Chris Hadfield, NASA Astronaut, offers some advice on how to approach new situations and emphasizes the idea that you should not try to aim too high in the beginning:

In any new situation... you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value. Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you’ll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform.
— Chris Hadfield, Astronaut, from ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’

I like the idea Chris puts forward, because it acknowledges our eagerness to be amazing and change the world right off the bat with our untamed ambition and energy. Then, he takes a step back from the ‘rah rah rah’ and appreciates the need to understand the environment we are working in and the people we are working with prior to offering our naive wisdom.

(Being slightly more blunt, Berkshire Hathaway’s iconic co-founder, Charlie Munger, strongly supports this view that avoiding stupidity is easier - and more useful - than seeking brilliance.)

A manifestation of learning

Additionally, and luckily for me, I am working in an environment where I am given the chance - or rather: am strongly encouraged - to try things out. Here, we strongly believe that trying things out and accepting initial failure on the way, accepting the chance of not achieving the perfect outcome at the first go, is a manifestation of learning.

Pragmateam blog - Observations of a new Starter - Learn Rapidly

Think Big. Take a step back. Understand the big picture. Look at opportunities. Ideate. Have a Beginner’s Mind. Be open.

Act Small. Get to know the people you work with. Aim to be a zero. Learn the basics. Try the little things. Be humble.

Fail Fast. Do. Put yourself out there - and your pride away. Find out early whether you are wrong. Ask for feedback. Ask for help. Retrospect. Be resilient.

Learn Rapidly. Know where you went wrong. Apply. Share your knowledge. Enjoy progress. Be better than yesterday.

It is inevitable that we make mistakes in a new environment. But if we allowed ourselves, and if others allowed us, to make mistakes on a small scale in rapid succession, then we can avoid failing big. Consider Andrew Stanton’s example from Pixar:

Get a bike that’s as low to the ground as you can find, put on elbow and knee pads so you’re not afraid of falling, and go,” he says. If you apply this mindset to everything new you attempt, you can begin to subvert the negative connotation associated with making mistakes. Says Andrew: “You wouldn’t say to somebody who is first learning to play the guitar, ‘You better think really hard about where you put your fingers on the guitar neck before you strum, because you only get to strum once, and that’s it. And if you get that wrong, we’re going to move on.’ That’s no way to learn, is it?
— Andrew Stanton, Pixar Director, from ‘Creativity, Inc.’

Following his analogy, the difference is between falling off a low bike with elbow and knee pads on until you can ride it (failing fast) and the feeling you need to prove yourself directly on a race track (stupidity). Or between playing the wrong cords in a 1:1 session and playing a concert right away.

Starting a new job gives us the opportunity to do just that: Put on our elbow and knee pads and find out whether you are wrong as fast as we can to minimise the impact. Try things out, get feedback, improve. (And yes, one of those knee-pad-eyes-shut-and-go things is to learn how to doodle.)

What we want to achieve here

This is the premise under which this blog is set up. We are operating in an exciting environment, one in which lots of people from different backgrounds, with various experience and needs, come together to collectively improve their ways of working. We are constantly challenging, and being challenged, driving for a better outcome, both for our customers and our business. A desire to learn and improve is naturally inherent in our approach.

Here, we will share our experiments, and our learnings, and open the floor up for discussion and feedback. Watch this space, for you will hear about a lot of experiences, and our learnings along the way.

So let's throw on our elbow and knee pads and enjoy the ride!