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17 Nov 2016

A Little Research Never Hurt Anyone! Keep Calm & Learn It Yourself

I got my first post NYSC job in 2005. I was waiting for my Masters admission and my friend’s mother suggested that while I was waiting, I work with her niece who was starting a school. I agreed, and during that job, learned a valuable lesson that has shaped my life.

It’s something I’ll call the L-I-Y Principle – Learn It Yourself

My boss had just moved to Nigeria and was starting a school with no experience, and even less money. She did not have the time, funds or inclination to hire people for half of the things we needed to do. I had never done a lot of the work that I had to do and she really wasn’t going to hold my hand through the learning process; meaning that half the time, I had to figure stuff out myself.

Google became my best friend. “Arit, we need a logo for the letterhead” – Arit goes on Google, finds out how and creates what was the most amateurish logo in the history of amateur logos. “Arit, we need a brochure for the school” – Arit googles the top schools of our age grade and formats and scripts brochure accordingly. “Arit we need policies and guidelines” “Arit we need training modules” “Arit we need homework ideas” “Arit we need….” Whatever we needed, best believe I googled it, learned about it and then shared it with my team.
When I left that school I could stand shoulder to shoulder with the country’s best minds on Early Years education; almost completely from the internet.

I moved from that job to one as Programs something or the other for an NGO in the set up process. Guess who had to create the structure for the NGO? While you’re at it, guess who googled her way from beginning to end. Yup! The NGO didn’t happen and I was moved to the marketing division of the parent company. There, I had to create a marketing structure for the company. Bear in mind, I had no previous knowledge or experience of this. The internet again, was my friend.

In the 11 years that I have been in paid employment, I have had to research and question more than I have been taught. I have worked in education, public relations, marketing and media; my degree is in Biochemistry.

Flash forward (is that a word?) to very recently, when I asked a team member to compile a list of people for me with pictures and bios. Her response? “I don’t know how to insert a picture”. Guys, I needed a minute because I was discombobulated. First, why is it ok to tell your team lead that you cannot do this task? Second, what on earth was she expecting me to do as a response? I gathered myself and referred her to someone who could teach her.

There is a member of our office who started out work in janitorial services. One day, we saw him working at a computer; he was learning how to log content. Next thing, I heard that he had started media management for one of our teams. Recently, I discovered that he has started learning to edit videos. ALL BY HIMSELF…ON HIS OWN!!! Dare I say that this guy will never be out of a job? I can say it with such confidence because in the years that I have known him, I have seen him evolve. What he doesn’t know, I can say for certain he will learn.

The world is evolving with almost terrifying speed. Skills highly prized last year are irrelevant today. There is not enough time to go to school to keep learning, there are not enough training sessions in the world and there are not enough people willing to give you the time or the space to take time off and learn. If you cannot L-I-Y, you my friend, will be left behind.

Sometimes, the reason why your subordinate got a job that you were better qualified for is not because your line manager is a tribalistic feminist who hates chubby guys. Sometimes the answer simply is that the person you were passed over for, has displayed a better ability to learn, self-audit and transfer skills – meaning that even if they don’t know the job yet, they will learn it so much quicker than you are predicted to.

There are few things more frustrating to me than having a team member come to me with a problem, and when I ask for their back up plan, they look at me blankly. It upsets me when people expect to be fed information, processes and outcomes. It pains me when I have to explain today the same thing I explained 3 months ago. I had to warn someone once to stop replying me with “I don’t know” and substitute it with “Let me find out and get back to you”

I hear a lot of times that there are no jobs…this isn’t strictly true, because there will always be space for highly motivated and self-auditing people who are constantly learning and building on their skills. In the highly competitive work environment of today, you will always need an edge to be the Option A.

Keep calm and L-I-Y.

By Arit Okpo

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