I don’t care how smart you are.  Everyone on the planet knows something that you don’t.  Everyone’s particular life experiences are different, giving every single person a special set of hidden knowledge that is unique to them.  Most people are very willing to share this experience with you.  All you have to do is ask.

When I was a product manager at Swarovski, I frequently took samples of new products to our security guard.  The guard knew nothing about product development.  He knew nothing about what it took to create a piece of crystal.  He did know about collecting.  He was a Swarovski collector.  He showed me pictures of his collection on time and it was amazing.  He definitely made the most use of his employee discount.  He knew what collector’s liked.  He knew how they would display a new piece.  That was the information I needed.  That was what he knew better than I.  We would talk for twenty minutes about which of the new pieces he liked better, which changes he would like to see and how he would display it in his home.  Conversations with him were frequently more valuable in developing new products than any conversation I had with my fellow product developers.

My conversations were so valuable because I asked with a sincere interest in learning what he knew better than I.  I was looking for the best way.  Unfortunately, when many people ask questions, they aren’t looking for the best way, they are looking to support how they are already doing it is the best way.

I have an example.  I am fast at Excel.  It started in college when my profession told me that he thought I might be bright but he could be sure.  My handwriting was so bad, he could read any of my homework.  From now on, he said, I would have to do my work on the computer and print it out.  That is when I found spreadsheets.  I learned that if I solved one question, all I needed to do was copy it and change the inputs.  Homework that used to take me 2 hours now took about 20 minutes.  One of my mantra’s is, “there is always a better way.”  For the rest of college and in my early work experience, I always looked for better and faster ways to get the work done.  I became fast.  When we moved to the North East, I worked temp jobs before starting at Samsonite.  One assignment was to cover for someone at Fleet bank while he was out on leave.  One Friday morning before my boss when on vacation, he emailed me a project and asked we go over it before lunch.  I assumed he wanted to review the final work before his vacation, so I dropped everything and got to work.  It was simple excel work and the directions were clear.  By lunch, I had done the work, printed it out and put it in nice color coded folders for him to review.  My assumption was wrong.  He didn’t want to review the task.  This was the project that he thought would keep me busy the entire next week.  The person I was covering would have taken a week to do it.  Now granted that person was milking the project but what would have taken 30 plus hours for him to do, I completed in less than three.

Since then, it is typically obvious how quick I am at excel and many fellow professionals have asked me how to speed up.  I have one guiding principal that will double the speed of move people who have to work with a lot of data.  Ready?  Don’t use the mouse.  That’s it.  There are cursor control keys and short cuts that allow you to select, move and manipulate data on the keyboard that is so much quicker than using the mouse.  It doesn’t come immediately but with a few days (and I’m really just talking days) practice, most people can significantly increase their speed.  When I tell people this, what is the most common reaction?  Keep in mind, they came to me because I am noticeably faster than they were and they wanted to become faster……or so they claimed.  The most common reaction I get is to be told (either to my face or to co-workers behind my back) that I’m crazy.  That wouldn’t speed them up.  In fact, they have a few tricks and skills that make them really fast.

They weren’t looking for the best way.  They were looking to justify that their way was best.  The fact that I was noticeably faster was dismissed and they became even more set in their ways.

When you seek advice from someone who has experience you don’t, someone who has skills you don’t, first determine why are you asking.  I suggest asking with an open mind to understand things from another experience.  That is when true learning and development will happen.

What skills do you seek to learn?  Who around you has those skills?  How can you ask him or her to teach you?  And most importantly, are you seeking a better way or just seeking to justify how you are already doing it?