It is impossible to know everything. But, if you can learn to listen and collaborate, you can know anything.
This was on the top of my mind as I wrapped up two life-changing years at Presidio Graduate School and started as a Consultant with Navicet.
By my second week, I was already embedded in three client projects. I was particularly excited to start work with a client who has an excellent track record on environmental sustainability and employee engagement. We were asked to design a Learning Journey, a cohort-based professional development program that combines workshops, coaching, and practicum projects. With my background in participatory education and professional development at an international nonprofit, I knew I could jump right in to add value. We began designing the Learning Journey in the way Navicet always does, by interviewing stakeholders who have the most context and interest in creating great outcomes.
My job was to take verbatim notes while Peter, the Managing Partner, engaged directly with the stakeholder, listening intently and intuitively while directing the conversation. I did my best to keep up with the pace of conversation. I wasn’t catching all the context that was flying through my ears and out my furiously typing fingers. I assumed this was because I was focused on typing all the words. Lauren, a Consulting Principal, briefed me that I didn’t need to decipher the notes right now. I was a human tape recorder and my job was to get everything written down. While this may seem cumbersome, taking verbatim notes helps prevent my personal judgement from influencing the qualitative data we were gathering. When our team goes back to our notes, we want to understand the context and flow of each of our over 35 conversations.
After a full day of back to back interviews, whole sentences made of acronyms, and a lot of words that were surprisingly new, I was excited, yet perplexed.
I asked Peter and Lauren, “What part of the business are we working with?”
“IT (Information Technology)” Lauren answered confidently.
“Oh noooo” was the immediate thought in my mind, though I think I squeaked out an “okay” and a head nod.
The thing is, I’m brand new to the field of technology and I don’t like being brand new. I like being experienced, proficient, and confident. I like knowing my way around so I can contribute effectively. Being brand new is scary. Being brand new is destabilizing.
“How am I going to contribute and show I’m valuable if I don’t know anything about this field?” I wondered.
Peter and Lauren reassured me that it wasn’t my deep expertise in any one field that makes me a valuable team member. Instead, they were interested in my desire and willingness to grow.
Was I willing to learn? Yes, absolutely.
A few hours of googling later, I learned that one does not do agile development, rather agile principles can guide people’s work. Google alerts for waterfall, in addition to technology news, will return great hiking recommendations. And, COTS means “Commercial Off the Shelf” and is not, as I had initially thought, spelled KOTZ.
One month later, I am still new to the field of technology and my role at Navicet. I am still uncomfortable at times. I don’t know everything, and that is a huge asset.
Ambiguity is a core part of our business. At Navicet we don’t offer prescribed solutions. We don’t think we know more about an organization than the people who live and breath the work everyday. We offer a process that can hold ambiguity and facilitate understanding. This process encourages our clients (and us) to lay down what we think we know and embrace being brand new.
We start by listening. We listen to our clients, their stakeholders, our intuition, and each other. I knew this is the work I wanted to be doing when Peter and Lauren offered me the feedback: “persuade less and listen more.” If I thought I already knew everything, there would be nothing to gain from listening. As someone who is committed to understanding the world beyond my own experience, being uncomfortable is something I will need to practice.
Yet, listening on its own is not enough. Listening helps transfer knowledge from one person to another, but there is a risk of the information flow ending there. To create collective results, collaborative action and design is needed.
This is exactly what we do at Navicet. I don’t have to know everything because I’m part of a team. I’m new to technology, no problem. Peter and Lauren have more than 35 years combined in the field. This is a different way to feel confident. I’m confident because of our team, not because I hold all the information. I can effectively contribute because I've listened beyond my own expertise and I've engaged those interested in creating great outcomes.
I can spend all my time trying to accumulate knowledge only to end up solving problems that no one has. Or I can actively listen and invite collaboration to find unexpected answers to the problems we could only unearth together.
By accepting the limitations on my own knowledge, I can know anything.