In school we are taught that we must do things by ourselves. Depending on the circumstance, asking for help is akin to cheating. In addition, control freaks want to do everything themselves anyway. And sometimes pride means not asking for help when you need it. These are some of the drivers for us working in isolation. In happens in the workplace where there is a problem to solve and we are assigned to do it, we do it by ourselves. And when we are in an area that is new to us, it is easy to get bogged down in figuring out the new things. It may be the time required to learn the new tool, time to actually read the manual so we aren’t inept or dangerous, or navigating our first time through a process. The ramp-up times can be significant. But the common thread in these things is that they are things that other people know how to do, but we are new at it. It’s not cutting-edge research in uncharted territory. They are just things we need to learn.
So how do you approach it? There is a balance point. At one extreme is a brute-force exhaustive search across the landscape in a solo expedition. Or build the entire thing from scratch and learn the same lessons that other people already have. Sure, that removes your dependencies on other people and satisfies pride and control freaks, but it is also extremely time intensive. And in some cases, you are reinventing the wheel. Most employers don’t want you to spend that much time on it. Time is money. I’m afraid most of us tend toward this extreme. So my suggestion is to get more in the middle.
Find out who the people are that have experience (or may be the experts in) what you are trying to learn. Spend some time talking to them. You can ask about their experience in that area. Utilize their experience and the lessons they have already learned. They can offer pointers for an accelerated start, best practices, anti-patterns, and most importantly, a net evaluation. The knowledge you can get based on the time invested is a huge improvement over the solo expedition. And the insights that other people can provide may exceed your own capabilities anyway.
At the other extreme is lack of due diligence and not doing your homework and being a burden to other people. Don’t go that far, pawning off your core learning responsibilities to other people. Respect their time. And sometimes take other people’s comments with a grain of salt. But don’t work in isolation either. Sure, it increases your dependencies, but an appropriate level of interdependency within an organization is a desirable thing.
So next time you are working on a big problem, ask around a bit. And be willing to respond to other people’s questions too.