(MCT)—Great news for people who have no idea what they’re doing at work: Your cluelessness may be giving you a competitive advantage.
That sounds silly, but consider the benefits of confusion. It prompts you to work harder to make sense of things. It forces you to ask others for help and input. And it encourages you to think in new ways.
As a highly regarded graduate of the Florida Academy for the Perplexed, I can attest to the benefits of perpetual uncertainty. It drives me to ask questions, to always seek a foothold of understanding.
“While experience provides a distinct advantage in a stable field — like the realms of bridge building, ballet, or concert piano performance — it can actually impede progress in an unstable or rapidly evolving arena. When the world is changing quickly, experience can become a curse, trapping us in old ways of doing and knowing, while inexperience can be a blessing, freeing us to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. In the new world of work, where knowledge is fleeting and innovation cycles spin so quickly that many professionals never face the same problem twice, rookies are often top performers, drawing on the power of learning rather than falling back on their accumulated knowledge.”
That is both counterintuitive and spot on. The days when a worker’s greatest attributes were institutional knowledge and expertise based on years of doing things the same way are not gone, but they are going.
What matters more now is a nimble mind and a willingness to adapt, re-adapt and re-adapt again two weeks later.
“These are scary days for people with a lot of experience,” says Wiseman, president of The Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm. “When you look at what’s happening in the workplace where there’s just an explosion of information, knowledge comes and goes really fast.”
That can render the most seasoned veteran obsolete in a hurry. For that matter, the rate of change in many industries is so swift it can render people fresh out of college obsolete if they don’t keep evolving.
“It’s kind of anybody’s ballgame,” Wiseman says.
The book offers steps veteran workers can take to regain the edge they had back when they knew a lot less. A starting point is evaluating whether you are, in fact, in need of new challenges.
Some of the warning signs include: consistently getting good feedback; not preparing for meetings because you already know the answers; being busy but bored; and no longer feeling you’re learning something new each day.
If you find yourself uncomfortably comfortable, it might be time for a change. That can come from requesting new assignments at work — in areas you’re less familiar with — or even just spending time with younger employees and trying to see work through those fresh sets of eyes.
I asked Wiseman the key to taking these steps.
“This really comes down to humility,” she says, “the humility that’s born out of desperation. It’s not a low sense of self; it’s about being willing to learn from people at all levels. Newcomers don’t really bring new ideas; they bring no ideas. When you bring nothing, it propels you into the most powerful form of learning, which is desperation-based learning. We don’t learn because we want to; we learn when it’s too painful not to learn.”