The dangers of knowing what you’re doing - and 3 ways you can stop comfort from being your downfall
I’m going to start off strong by correcting myself - my title is wrong. The danger doesn’t actually lie in knowing what you’re doing - it lies in believing you know what you are doing. It lies in feeling saturated in your knowledge. In believing that you’ve seen it all, know it all, and that being surprised is a thing of the past.
When we no longer think we have anything left to learn, we become relaxed. And when we relax, we become sloppy. Our brain goes on autopilot and we’re no longer critical of the work we do. We lose the one thing that should be seen as our greatest strength both in life and in work - our curiosity.
The belief that you know what you’re doing will fuel every decision you make, every outside opinion you ignore, and every corner you cut in order to get the job done quicker. The safest way to never be surprised is to not look for it. If you don’t anticipate the possibility of you learning something new, you are doomed to churn out the same old stuff - forever.
If you feel like this has happened to you, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. It’s human nature. As humans we seek comfort, and as creatures of habit we all run the risk of turning something that used to be fuelled by curiosity into a routine. We also know from the work of Daniel Kahneman that our brain (mostly subconsciously) automates anything that we’ve done more than once in order to free up space for other functions. And I get it, when you’ve seen the same thing 100 times over, it’s hard not to expect it again on the 101st time.
We don’t need to constantly aim to reinvent everything and never allow ourselves even a smidge of comfort. If we did that we’d never get any work done, constantly questioning ourselves and going around in circles. We do however need to introduce a level of discomfort into our lives. An ice bath to shock us out of the unwanted monotony. We need to introduce external channels with the ability to challenge what we know to be true.
So, what can you do to ensure you’re keeping a healthy level of discomfort in your work life?
1. Don’t hire from the same talent pool.
Who we surround ourselves with is crucial for the work we do and has a significant impact on how we run our process and what the outcome becomes. In order to ensure that new perspectives are consistently introduced, we need to ensure that those we work with have different experiences than us.
When looking to hire for your team, you can consider some of these things:
Where did they study? Is that university and degree already well represented in the industry?
Where did they grow up? Do we often see people from that area in the industry?
Which jobs have they previously had? Have they got unconventional experience doing something completely different?
These are all things that are easy to say but harder to execute. Because you can consider all of these things, but if your talent pool is limited then the newest perspective you can introduce might not get you very far.
You also need to consider where you are advertising your role:
Are you only posting the ad on channels that only your already existing network checks?
If you are working with recruiters, where are they sourcing their candidates?
Which universities are you cooperating with to find graduate talent? Who tends to go to those universities?
Advertising your roles in places where you normally don’t will create a more varied talent pool, allowing you to hire talent with perspectives not only new to the business, but to the industry.
2. Find unique sources of inspiration.
Our sources of inspiration have a significant impact on the work we produce. And there are some rich sources of inspiration at the tip of our fingertips. In just a few seconds I can access Awwwards, Dribble, Behance and many other sites that house excellent creative work. And the work on these sites can be truly amazing. But the problem with these sites is just that - their convenience. If everyone can access a website in just a few seconds, then that’s where most people will turn for their inspiration.
Because what we are inspired by in most cases directly impacts what we create, if we’re all using the same source of inspiration - we will all be producing the same (or similar) things.
If you want to produce new things, you need to look in new places.
There’s no quick fix to this, as if there was then that’s where everyone would look, and we would be back to the original problem. This really comes down to having your eyes open for uniqueness all around.
Stop going for the easy option and get away from your desk. Walk around the office. Go outside for a coffee. Walk home a different route than normally. All while not having your head down, but instead looking around you, taking in your surroundings. As soon as you start looking for new things, you will see them.
3. Read opinion pieces you disagree with.
This one can often feel counterintuitive. If we don’t agree with something, the thought of investing our precious time to entertain that thing can seem wasteful. However, that is exactly why you should do it. There are two key reasons why reading an opinion piece you disagree with can be immensely valuable.
The first reason is that it’s healthy to challenge our own opinions. Even if you don’t agree, it’s important to understand what other perspectives there are regarding a topic that you are invested in. And maybe you don’t agree with everything you’ve read in the article, but there might be nuggets of information you pick out that contribute to your understanding of that topic, that shifts your perspective.
The second thing I think is the most important one. Reading an article about something you disagree with might teach you something new, yes. But what it will definitely do is teach you about people you don’t know. It’s very easy to think people are in a specific way, because that’s what those around us are like. But the truth is, those around us make up an incredibly slim part of the population, and so they are a miniscule representation of culture, trends and behaviours present in society.
Marketing and branding ultimately comes down to understanding people. We have to be good at understanding an audience, without us being that audience ourselves. And that doesn’t come from consuming content that reaffirms what you already know. That comes from exploring topics, forums and news that you would never dream of.
Before I wrap this up I will also disagree with myself - what I’ve said isn’t the whole story. Because routine and comfort comes from experience, and experience is not to be taken lightly. No amount of theoretical knowledge can fully prepare you for the real deal. There’s a reason you don’t leave university and immediately start in a Directors position. Experience is tremendously valuable, but only if it’s never taken for granted. Experience is a tool in your toolbox, but rely too heavily on it and you will quickly see a decline in your creative ability.
We’re now at the end of a fairly wordy article and if you take away only one thing from what you have read it is this:
Be perceptive. Talk less. Listen more.
This is the foundation for gaining new perspectives and challenging what you already know. Seeing every interaction you have as an opportunity, not to teach but to learn, will open up your mind and your ability more than anything else can.
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