It seems I am on a bit of an “outsourcing” drive at the moment, advocating that people find other ways of boosting productivity rather than doing the work themselves. It might feel that way to some, but I think my stance is that freeing up time for other activities, other far more important activities, is a worthy pursuit.
Welcome to this week’s time-wasting tip-off, where I believe that you need to seek professional help.
Why You Need To Seek Professional Help
You get educated. The primary reason to seek out a professional, either as an advisor, an educator or a partner, is to educate yourself as quickly as possible about a particular subject, because then you can get on with what you need to do.
Hiring professional help is not just a cheap excuse to outsource part of a project. With outsourcing, you generally learn nothing and once the contractor goes away, no more work can be done without their help.
You can get it done cheaper. Rather than struggling for hours or days with what could well be a simple problem, hiring someone knowledgeable, seeking out an expert advisor or just simply picking up a book can mean the difference between major project slippage and shipping on time.
I am a geek and I have to admit, the pleasure I find in figuring something out is immeasurable, but I also know that as a businessman and entrepreneur, usually the shortest path to a solution is working with someone who has already solved it before.
Pick your battles, realise that not every situation requires your own personal solution, and that sometimes, you just have to suck it up and use a tried and true method to solve a problem.
You can get it done quicker. Again, just like getting whatever it is done cheaper, picking the right professional will allow you to finish up your project far quicker with the right help.
Picking the right problems for assistance with, again, whether the assistance is a book or an actual person, is a skill in itself but one you can quickly learn by doing. If you find that your project is bogging down and proceeding slowly, try taking a step back, or even asking someone not connected with the project or problem, for some advice.
You can get it done right. Long before Rumsfeld was ever quoted for "unknown unknowns" the expression existed and the sentiment of it was just as important, I learnt it from my Father, and I am sure he picked it up from someone else.
Because you do not know what you do not know, often the solution chosen to a problem is not optimal, it is often not even “good enough.” I have fallen in to this trap myself multiple times over the years and it is very easy to do so. An expert advisor, a decent reference book or just someone watching over your shoulder, can quickly steer you away from the obvious mistakes and towards a better, cleaner solution, and sometimes, you just need another more knowledgeable person to bounce ideas off of to see what is feasible.
Your Ways To Seek Help
Hire a professional to educate you in what you need to know. Do not just treat the professional as an educator or teacher though, have them do the work and let you follow along, repeating the actions they are performing, explaining to you why they do something a particular way.
You might not become a grandmaster overnight, but you will understand enough of the process to decide whether you need to understand more of the process.
Hire a professional to do part of the job for you. Not everything needs to be done by you. As an example, I spend part of my time working on a book manuscript, sticking to the parts of the book creation process I understand, the writing, the code examples, etc. But I certainly will not be designing the cover myself, nor will I be doing my own editing, and even though I believe I am very much an average writer, I know that good cover copy sells, so I am also scouting out a few good copywriters to take care of creating the blurb on the back cover and the sales letters.
Stick to what you know as a professional, and let the professionals do what they know. Become the person that puts all of the pieces together, rather than the person who meddles in affairs that they were not meant to.
Read a book. Yeah, yeah, the internet and the web, the greatest information resource known to man, it is a library of infinite knowledge where some Visigoth or Vandal has thrown all of the books on the floor and scribbled their own personal comments in the margins of all the art books claiming “Photoshopped!”
Ask yourself what your time is worth. A couple of books from Amazon.com? Or several hours searching fruitlessly for wisdom through forums and websites, all the while dealing with idiots and conflicting opinions on the subject?
Do not underestimate the power of a good book to completely subsume you in the subject matter. If you are just starting out, the “101” type books you find on most general purpose book shop shelves such as Barnes & Noble or Blackwell’s will satisfy your immediate information need, but be prepared, once you proceed beyond the basics, to get in to some very heavy texts.
I agree that not all information is available in book form, there are some subjects just too narrow even for books, and there is some information just too esoteric and small to be worth it (Reading the memory of game in real-time to determine cheat codes using Python and Ruby on Rails?), but most of the time, a good book shop, especially one that deals specifically with your chosen subject, can bring enlightenment very quickly.
So do not be afraid to buy several books on the subject when you absolutely need the best information in the quickest and easily digested form. Better yet, find a professional who understands the problem and have them recommend particular books on the subject. The money spent on books (the right tools) is project time saved (valuable, irreplaceable resource) that will pay back dividends.
Make friends with your local research librarian. Any reasonably sized university, college or city library will have one on staff. A good research librarian can perform searches through papers, journals and databases that the average person does not possess access to.
I never really understood the benefits of a librarian or research librarian in most day-to-day business, but a good research librarian can track down and locate information faster than you or I can, and usually obtain more comprehensive information too. They are trained to whittle away at layers upon layers of information to get at the core facts that are pertinent, they can even help you to ask the question in the first place.
Not all professionals are created equal. And I give thanks for that. It is important to realise that not only are there different skill levels within a particular field of expertise, professionals also differentiate based on how they present themselves, how they handle their clients, i.e. you, how they communicate, how they work, and a myriad of other factors too.
Just because you hired two professionals of supposedly identical skill level does not mean you will receive identical results, nor will you get an identical experience. Some are good, some are bad, and you need to be proactive in setting expectations, desired outcome, project or task deliverables, and above all, why you hired the professional in the first place.
You do not need the very best in the field. Though it helps. You do not need to hire Einstein or Hawking to solve your basic math problems. It might look good in a press release, but it is utterly useless for conducting day-to-day business.
Hiring a professional is not the same as hiring a specialist. Most professionals are like odd job handymen, able to solve a variety of problems within their domain of knowledge and skills, and solve them adequately. Specialists can do that too, without question, but you will be paying through the nose for it. If you do not have a specific, very thorny problem that requires the laser-like focus of a domain specialist, payable by the appropriate fees, seek out a general-purpose professional, be it software developer, gardener, plumber, designer, or copywriter.
Clear communication is key. Make sure that whichever professional you are seeking out is capable of communicating clearly and succinctly in your native tongue. It is very important to have your advisors speaking in language and in a language that you can understand and fully comprehend. If you feel the person is being deliberately obscure or obtuse, find a different professional. A friend of mine recently hired an electrician to come check the wiring in her house, I happened to be there at the time, and had to translate between what the professional was saying (splicing, loops, drops, breakers, runs) to what the customer understood (you have too much crap plugged in all at once, you need to turn some of it off). Great electrician, terrible communicator.
Do not pursue the cheapest option. Being cheap, cutting corners in your selection of professionals, adds enormous risk and delays to your project or endeavour. You should have two or three main criteria in selecting a professional to work with you:
1. Are they reliable? Do they respond to your e-mails within a timely fashion? Call you when they say they will? Show up at the meetings or job when required to do so?
Unreliable professionals waste your time, time you do not have to spend waiting on them, which was the point in seeking them out and hiring them in the first place.
2. Can they communicate? I am not talking about mumbling or incoherent techno-babble or an odd accent – I am not one to talk about funny accents – but the ability to communicate clearly, orally and through the written word, in complete sentences, to get to the point without prevarication and to not make every conversation with the person an info dump or a confrontation.
Does the person use three words where one will do? Do they use overly decorated language? Will “good” suffice for “stupendous?”
Tycho Brahe, the nom de plume of Jerry Holkins over at the website comic Penny Arcade makes a “decent living” writing pompous, overly flowery wordage as the introduction to each comic strip, but this is not really something you want from someone you hire, unless of course you are actually hiring that person for that sort of thing.
3. Do they know what they are talking about? This can be a tough call, especially if the professional is far outside of your own realm of expertise. Just because someone is saying something you do not necessarily agree with, or does not fit your worldview, it does not mean they are blowing smoke.
The solution is to listen to how something is said rather than what is said. Are they firm and confident? Do they have most of the answers? Are they willing to say “I do not know” when pressed?
Ask your professional the “how” questions immediately after asking them if something is possible. “How would you go about fixing the server configuration problem?” or “How would you increase traffic if after six months no detectable change has been seen based on your previous suggestions?”
How they answer those types of questions, is often more important than domain specific knowledge, as the questions explore their analytical and critical thinking skills, and also allows you to observe whether they have dealt with that kind of problem in the past or are just regurgitating some text from a book they once read.
Do not be afraid to seek out the help of others, nor have such an enlarged ego that you are not willing to, the first sign of a truly aware person, especially in a professional setting, is admitting “I do not know and I need to find out.” Ignore anybody, especially colleagues, that scorn you for not knowing and admitting to it, they are living in fear, hiding behind an ego bigger than their knowledge.