I wonder how common it is to have a job where you are regularly asked and expected to do things you have no idea how to do?
I’ve never worked outside of my industry. The only significant non-programmer job I’ve ever had was working tech support for an ISP – which didn’t last long as I eventually ended up being their webmaster. Even worse, the closest thing I’ve had to a non-computer-related job was all the non-computer-related class homework I and everyone else had to do while in school. So you might say I lack the needed perspective to answer my own leading question – but that’s not going to stop me from speculating!
Training is something that I hear of frequently in relation to jobs. I believe training is usually presented (or interpreted) as if it is everything a person needs to know about a topic. From what I can tell after dealing with people my whole life, it’s often used as an excuse not to engage the brain. It seems when people are asked to do something that they haven’t been told beforehand how to do, their first instinct is to make it someone else’s problem – someone “more qualified.”
Often this enforced ignorance is encoded within the org chart in the form of authority. Just because the person lower on the totem pole is not allowed to offer up solution XYZ doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t know how to do it – yet they cannot act on it without approval from above and that makes them feel stupid. People don’t generally like to feel stupid, so if this goes on long enough, the easiest and mentally safest thing to do is to just stop knowing stuff.
I believe that most people get their spirit broken somewhere in or just after high school. They redirect their energies toward entertainment or distraction rather than personal improvement. They stop learning skills on their own and wait for approval from an authority beforehand. This might be in the form of sanctioned training classes by their boss, or even just the appearance of a so-called expert on Oprah trying to sell a book. Somewhere along the line they learned that it was better and safer to be told what to do than to try to do anything on their own initiative.
This works out pretty well for the corporate world which most often wants easily replaced cogs in their machines rather than thinking individuals – but cogs can only solve the problems they’ve been programmed to solve. That implies that someone else solved it first. What if the problem has no known solution or you simply cannot find someone else to do it for you? Do you just give up and leave the task undone?
When I’m building things on my own time, experimenting with code, playing with some concept I read about on Wikipedia or whatever, I often hit tough roadblocks and end up stopping. My cover story is that I got “bored” of it or I discovered some new idea I liked better. Things like that. But I suspect the truth is that I, too, am infected with a certain amount of “this is out of my league”-ness.
I bet I could learn anything I needed to solve any of the problems I’ve come across when playing with hobby projects. I’d even bet that some of those ideas were golden had I kept working on them. The reality is that I did not, though. I may have had some idea 10 years ago that today is a million dollar company – but I did not act on it then and I lost. It’s hard to remind myself that this is true, that the fault for things like this is mine. I don’t want to accept that because accepting failure is difficult. I want to blame someone or something else – that is easier.
Successful people never give up. They fail, fail, fail, fail, and then finally succeed. And often they go on to fail many more times in search of the next success.
True success can only be achieved by people who take on the hard problems, the unknown problems, and do them in spite of their lack of formal training or education. They might get motivation from a desire to “stick it to the man who says it can’t be done” or simply through ignorance. How often have you heard of people talking about a famous accomplishment only to hear them say, “I didn’t know it was impossible?”
So do the stuff you don’t know how to do. Make your own success. Fail as often as you must, but strive to succeed because success is good for everyone – especially you.