As the pace of change at work quickens, it gets harder and harder to execute with impact. Experience becomes a curse. It traps us in old ways of working. Pressures abound. Exhaustion prevails.
In her book Rookie Smarts, Liz Wiseman explains why, in this new game of work, not knowing is more valuable than knowing. Being a ‘rookie’ sparks a learner’s advantage, and it’s a big one. Rookies listen more, ask for help, believe they have a lot to learn, and learn faster. She notes what it takes to being as smart as a rookie and fostering the same advantage in teams. Six keys arising for B2B sales teams looking to conquer uncertainties:
1. BE MORE AWARE.
The world of work is increasingly a VUCA world [shrouded in velocity + uncertainty + complexity + ambiguity]. As those with military training know, VUCA worlds require heightened awareness and situational readiness. Conditions can change quickly. Mistakes are easy to make. Surprises lurk around every corner.
These are conditions that most sales people now operate in. Conditions far more complicated than when they started their career. Like the phone call I got one day from a rep who’d been reading my blog. She asked: “what do I do? I’ve tried everything that’s ever worked for me before and none of it’s worked.” When works spins faster, so too must the learning.
2. BE DESPERATE. TO LEARN.
‘Rookie situations’ foster a ‘subsistence learning’. Where we learn because we have to. In the field. In the moment. To survive. You don’t have such situations? Wiseman contends you should manufacture them. Put yourself in unfamiliar, uncomfortable, situations. We learn more completely when we’re desperate to learn. Getting outside your comfort zone is key. Some of the most productive weeks our clients have had have ended by them noting … “I’ve just spent a lot of time seriously outside my comfort zone.” They relished it.
When it comes to learning, don’t muster motivation; be driven by desperation.
3. EXPLOIT YOUR OWN GENIUS.
We tend to idealize experts. They represent safety, comfort, and certainty. The flip side? Wiseman notes research shows there’s a lot of genius wrapped up in our non-expert, average, selves.
The less your power, and the fewer your resources, the more attuned you become to what’s around you. The higher the odds you’ll understand another person’s perspective. Experience creates blinders that narrow your focus and can get you stuck in a rut. Park your experience. Focus on what you learn. You’ll avoid ruts and find your groove.
4. ASK COLLEAGUES FOR HELP
When the problem is too big for any one expert to have the answer, best results come from ‘group-think’. When there are no obvious templates or best practices, the best teams have an open mind about the best way forward. They learn from each other. It starts by admitting they don’t know everything. As Mike Tyson once noted, ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’.
Those with a rookie mindset are 2x more likely to say they have something to learn, and reach out to 5x more peers to help them understand new situations. They augment their knowledge deficits with others’ knowledge. As such, ‘rookies’ foster ‘group think’. Which builds a collective belief in a team’s ability to solve complex problems. It’s infectious.
5. LEARN IN CHUNKS.
Learn carefully. If the work is really hard, break it into small steps. Don’t try to learn everything all at once. Learn it in pieces and the learned pieces will, eventually, all come together. Avoid big mistakes with big moves. Instead, aim for the accumulated impacts of swiftly executed small steps, each of which minimizes risks.
6. LEAD THE WAY.
Leaders are normally pressured to have the answers. It’s better to reverse the role and become the one seeking answers. Doing so sets a learning-focused tone for others to follow. It makes everyone more alert. More able to discover fresh perspectives. As a first move, leaders need to remove risk as a blocker to ‘rookie smarts’. Make it safe to fail and learn. Two ways to do so. Create a space for experimentation. Get down and dirty with folks on your front-lines of execution to see what’s really going on.
The bottom line? Wiseman notes that ‘rookies’ deliver more timely solutions as they productively, cautiously, and anxiously set out to prove themselves in unfamiliar situations. In the new world of work, the proud and smart will be left behind; passed by those with the courage, curiosity, and desperation to learn.
And systems in place to enable and provoke it.