There are a number of factors which contribute to making us smart workers. My earlier two articles covered a couple of aspects. Here's another one. The importance of staying connected.
What does it mean to stay connected?
Well, let us start off by looking at the literal meaning. Connected could refer to us being connected with the not only the rest of the people in our organisation but with those outside as well. It is all about networking. These people need not belong to the same group/domain or level at which you operate. You never know who might come in useful and when. And it is a two-way street. You must also be a useful connection to others. You are not useful, if you are not helping people in need. Connections help us open doors quicker, help us reach our destinations faster, provide us with useful references. This not to suggest that we do anything unethical.
A hard working professional makes sure he/she understands what needs to be done and by when. Once done, he/she waits for the next set of instructions. Being smart is all this and a bit more. It is about understanding the bigger picture or context. Who is the customer? What could be some of the implicit requirements? Requirements which someone assumed you would know about. In fact, the more you demonstrate the ability to work with lesser inputs, stronger is the signal you send out to people all around, that you know what is going on. You are the first person your superiors think about when they want someone to get started on a project where there is still a lot of ambiguity. And in a world where everyone wants something in a hurry (in most cases they want it done yesterday!), it is this class of people who come to mind first.
How does one stay connected?
Quite simple actually. Talk to people. Have your coffee and lunches with different people each day while at work. Yes, you may have your prefered set of 'friends' but you are never going to learn unless you keep expanding your network. These days with various social media tools, one can expand one's network to also include people you don't get to share your coffee! People across the globe. I know a lot of people who dislike social media tools because they see it as a waste of time. It is, if you are in groups which discuss what they had for breakfast or only use it to share jokes. Not otherwise.
Being always in the loop - making sure you understand the context. This can be partially addressed through networking. Another good way is to read general information which lands up in our corporate in-boxes. Could pertain to the CEO's vision, could be about new product launches (outside of what you are working on), could be about the company's recent acquisition, or a new customer who just signed up. A lot of people sit and do nothing, or resort to working on other stuff during some long meetings. They 'wake' up when their topic is being discussed and remain mentally absent for the rest of the time. If you do not have extremely pressing matters to resolve while sitting in such meetings, you might as well listen attentively. If the rest of the folks are discussing something important, it definitely has to to with your company's business!
Context is also about knowing the space you work in. Keeping a watch of other news pertaining to your industry, your environment. I recall a story from the early days of my career here. The year must have been 1991/92. My boss, his friend and I were driving to a place between Bangalore and Chennai for a meeting with the senior management of a foundry. I was not exactly clear about what the meeting was for and my boss and his friend were discussing a bit of it on the way. I was at that time just under 3 years old in my career, so I was doing more listening than talking.
My boss was mentioning about some research happening in the area of solidification simulation.The word 'foundry' and the fact that the company we were headed out to was looking for an engineering solution triggered the following thoughts in my head.
"They don't want a typical MIS or business solution"
"Solidification simulation has most definitely got to do with molten metal being poured into moulds to make castings".
In a moment I recalled an article I had recently read in a popular magazine at that time - The Illustrated Weekly. About a British company with a product to simulate solidification of metal castings. More importantly, about this company entering into a collaboration with a large Indian IT company. I am leaving out product and company names here since they are not important!
I could have kept quiet and let my boss and his friend continue their 'strategic' talks and let them get on with their planning for what they were going to discuss at the meeting. The meeting, I gathered, was for the foundry folks to explain their requirement and to see if could provide a solution rather than us making a pitch to sell a specific service. I had nothing to lose, so I shared what I had read in the article. I also share my two bits about my hunch that this might come up in the meeting. Remember, in 1991/92 we did not have internet or Google. There was no way for us to check on anything while we were still on the road.
To cut the story short, the meeting happened. The prospective customer representatives explained their requirement. Didn't expect us to know anything pertaining to their specific domain. Mentioned that they called us only because someone had referred our company. Mentioned that there was already another large Indian IT company ready to supply a solution but that it was too expensive, so they were scouting. That is when my boss matter-of-factly mentioned about the other product and the fact that we were already in talks with a research institute to develop our own product. I still recall the surprised look on their faces.
A year later, I was giving a demo of the product we had pulled together, to the same team in Bangalore. A few months' later they became our first customer.
I will never forget the article I read, the drive, the meeting and how I switched from working on business applications to spending the next 3 years on a CAD/CAM product with some of the best brains I have come across. While luck does have a part to play in all this, I believe that the more we keep our eyes and ears open and be proactive, the more lucky we get.