I finished my first full quarter with Varrow last weekend. It was many of the things I expected it to be – busy, taxing, exciting, stretching. It was successful in some regards, and unsuccessful in others. I hope I’ve learned from both, and I hope both help shape me as I head into my subsequent quarters with Varrow.
As a way of reflecting on the time, I’ll jot down some thoughts here. I’m not sure it’ll be anything revelatory, but as I don’t charge for this stuff, you get what you get.
To Do the Job Well Requires Hard Work, and That’s a Good Thing
My friend has as his Gmail signature a portion of a poem by Marge Piercy titled “To Be of Use“. Here’s what he copied in:
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
I’m admittedly not the world’s biggest fan of poetry (or quotes in signatures for that matter!), but I love truth in any form. And this poem just rings with it. A person is made for work that is real, and it really should be our desire to be of use. Acknowledged or not, we were made for it, and will be corrected for if it’s absent.
I’m persuaded that a large part of why I like this job so much is that I’m made for work, and not work that is easy. An easy job is not a satisfying job for me, because I was made for real work that is challenging and costly. To be sure, I have many ‘jobs’ in my life, and balancing them is the real challenge, but I’m called to work, and to work to do the thing well. I continue to love the job, and this is perhaps the chief reason – to do it well requires hard work.
I Work With Some Seriously Talented People, and They Help Me
So, two for two here on the non-revelatory stuff, but I work with some seriously talented people at Varrow. That in itself though isn’t my main reflection. My main reflection is that these seriously talented people (who are also really busy) are also seriously willing to help their colleagues.
It’d be one thing to work with these folks and observe them from a distance and note their amazing talents. I’d be able to learn from them, despite the distance. But however it happened, Varrow has employed the type of talented professional who is also willing to help. Whether that’s on a specific technical question I have, or on strategy for driving value into an account, or how to juggle priorities, my peers and supervisors are helpful, and are not, as Marge Piercy wrote, ‘parlor generals and field deserters’. No one seems to be interested in hoarding their expertise, but rather is willing to help. We’re competing against others, and not against ourselves. May we never lose that.
Customers Need our Help, But Listen Before You Leap
If I had one major reflection on what I’ve learned by being in front of a number of customers this last quarter, it’s the importance of recognizing that to really help a customer, we have to take the time to listen. We have to ask good questions, but then we need to listen to the answers. One of my colleagues recently noted how little he likes the generic term ‘best practices’, and he said this because every customer is different. Fine if you want to leverage best practices as a starting point, and good on you to keep things tried and true where possible, but we need to understand that it only goes so far. I might have two seemingly identical meetings on my calendar, where the topic of discussion might look identical, but they won’t be. There will be similarities probably, but there will be subtle or not so subtle differences, and the differences will make all the difference in the work between a generic solution that might work, and a specific solution that will. Customers need our help, but to really help them, we have to take the time to listen. We earned the business of a couple of great customers last quarter not because our solution was the best (though it was), but because we took the time to listen, understand their needs, and meet them. Know how I know that? They told me so unprompted, and I heard them because I was listening – even after the PO came in! It’ll be on me to remember that lesson, and to build on it going forward. And lest you think I have this down, think again. I note this as the biggest lesson because I’m more naturally a talker than a listener, and all the more when I’m excited about the topic at hand. So maybe you’ll join me in learning to listen first, and leap second?