Starting a new job can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. While the change in environment can be exciting and motivating, the desire to stand out early on can sometimes make for an anxious first couple of weeks. Getting the hang of a new workplace (or a new industry) can feel like more an art than science; however, I think research from The Innovator’s DNA suggests that there may be a science behind success! The authors go on to identify a key set of skills you should focus if you want to achieve success when starting a new job.
The Innovator’s DNA is a new book by professors Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School), Jeffrey Dyer (Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University) and Hal Gregersen (INSEAD). Their research results indicate that the most innovative leaders have mastered the following skills: questioning, observing, networking, experimenting, and associational thinking. I would argue that learning these very same skills will help you flourish early on in your career.
Questioning: I think it goes without saying that asking questions will help you be successful as a new employee. There is no benefit in pretending to know things you don’t. In fact, current employees may appreciate your intent to leverage their knowledge and insight. Asking questions form the foundation of learning and understanding—so ask away!
Observing: Study the work habits and company culture around you in the same way that an anthropologist would observe a tribe. Write things down. Note the commonalities between staff’s attitudes, how they approach problems, and how people from all levels interact with one another. To start well, you need to stop—just watch and learn.
Networking: Find out who the longest-serving employee is and pick their brain about what brings them to work every day. Consider volunteering for the next thing that might give you exposure: a fundraising campaign, a recreational activity or whatever. The more people you meet, the better your understanding as to where your proper fit in the overall organization will be.
Experimenting: To experiment is to test a hypothesis or attempt to make a discovery. What does that mean? Once you’ve questioned, observed and networked enough, you must combine your recently obtained knowledge with your outsider perspective and try new things. Of course, as with all experiments, you must be sure to execute in a controlled environment—that is, with the blessing and supervision of your boss. Remember, it is your newness that will make it easier for you to mentally consider breaking from traditions. Take advantage of this reality.
Associational thinking: Here’s where you connect the dots. What dots, you say? Your knowledge, skills and experiences, the insights you’ve assembled from doing everything mentioned above: these are all dots and you’re constantly collecting them. But it’s not about possessing them, it’s about connecting them. This type of thinking is prompted through not only engaging in discussions with your supervisor and colleagues, but also through recognizing the importance of bridging knowledge from unrelated subjects and seemingly isolated phenomena. This is the type of thinking that is sure to get you noticed in an organization.
(For further reading: The Five Habits of Highly Innovative Leaders