1. ‘punch above one’s weight’: (idiomatic) To achieve or perform at a higher level than would be expected based on one’s preparation, attributes, rank, or past accomplishments.…So I am a huge advocate of regularly trying to punch above one’s weight. 1 For the uninitiated, in corporate-speak this (mostly) means successfully completing stretch assignments or otherwise taking on tasks and projects outside of one’s wheelhouse of skills / core competencies.
…I was not always this way, though. In my early 20s during my first internship I received failing marks from the review committee (i.e. I wasn’t invited back for the following year) for not completing all of the task assigned 2. This is (I think) the first time I’ve ever told anyone this.to me. 2 I’d received glowing reviews from my Manager the entire summer, however, and so this came as quite a shock. Unfortunately for me, that feedback had been exclusively of the verbal variety… and so I had no means to validate the work performance I’d (until the end of the summer) been told was outstanding. This experience stuck with me for years afterwards, and the key lesson I took from it was that I needed to get (documented) consensus around everything I did of significance before moving forward so that I might cover myself in case things went bad.
^With that said, while it turns out this a fantastic way to cover-your-backside and *meet* (not exceed) expectations, it is an awful way to take risks and push yourself. Because when you try to document everything, people mostly become very conservative, backing only those things which they are reasonably sure will succeed… particularly in situations when you have a 3. This makes sense if you think about it. Attaching your name to an unproven commodity is risky.limited track record for success or are in a stretch role. 3 This makes the costs of eschewing risks this way prohibitively high.
Ergo, now I don’t worry so much about paper trails – at least where it concerns my own development. I’m much more interested in trying new things and learning how to do them through (preferably) numerous iterations. I don’t really even care if pushing oneself this way is valued in the environment I’m operating within… the experience I get from learning how to do something new is its own reward. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the best performers are those that stretch themselves in this way anyway, and so over the long run identifying new plateaus and pushing past them will typically serve me better than seeking out the conservative play.
Yesterday, a woman walked up to me at work and introduced herself. I’ve never laid eyes on this woman before, and I thought I’d seen everyone here. She said “Hi, I’m Denise. I’m brand new – I just started my job. I’m the new Training Manager here. I know you’re new here, and I’d love to get your impressions on the kinds of training that would be helpful to new employees.”
I gave her the Q & A document we’ve been talking about. I had it sitting right on my desk. “This is great!” Denise said. “I haven’t seen this before. Did you get this Q & A when you started the job?” I told her no, I just made it up myself and maybe she could use it. She was thrilled. She wants to have coffee with me. Can you believe it? I mean, I’m not an Instructional Designer, of course, but still.
…and Liz writes:
Keyholes are the key! Don’t be cowed by titles like Instructional Designer. That means people who create training materials. Nobody in our company including Liz Ryan, our CEO, has ever been to school for that, but so what? We design training materials all day. They are used all over the world.
Don’t let jargon and professional designations rattle you. You have the experience to claim dozens of those titles. No one has to confer them on you. You could call yourself an instructional designer if you want. It’s not like passing the bar exam. If you do it, then you are it.
^This is a really powerful idea if you think about. Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson once said “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”, which is very much in the spirit of what Liz’s reader above did. Smart, intellectually curious self-starters will mostly make the same choices as experts the majority of the time anyway 4, so if those labels generally 4. Google CHRO Laszlo Bock agrees with me (or I agree with him >_>), saying in this NY Times piece that: “If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ ” Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, “because most of the time it’s not that hard.” apply to you then pushing yourself to try new things that grow your KSAs like this is (over the long run) a winning money play.
…This is getting a bit long again, so I’ll just close this morning’s thought stream by saying that we should never wait for permission to push ourselves out of our comfort zone(s) and do great work. Instead, if you’re ready for the next level of work, look for opportunities to do it and start doing it. If you fail, learn from that failure (which requires having the humility to recognize when you’ve failed) and try again. That simple.
P.S. Smart recruiters and hiring managers look for people that stretch themselves when filling open roles, so in addition to being a great skill builder, possessing said characteristic is a great way to get in with a world class organization and/or team.