Be a Rookie!

By Craig Johns

Imagine a workplace that is filled with employees and teams who are full of energy, enthusiasm, curiosity and an inner drive for gaining a competitive edge. Is that yours?

All businesses and organisations want innovation, creativity, productivity and forward progress. But, many leaders stifle their team member’s abilities through the processes, daily habits and environment they create. So how do you create a culture of curiosity, wonder, learning, creativity and inspiration?

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In an ever changing world ‘it’s not what you know, it’s how quickly you can learn’. The more experienced you are as a leader and your team members are, the higher the likelihood of complacency, reduced productivity and a feeling of we already know how this business works.

Do you ever feel jealous when new employees join your organisation full of zest, inquisitiveness and desire to make an immediate difference?

The number one predictor of impact in a business or organisation, is productivity. As leaders we need to be continually ‘changing things up’, providing a culture of forward-thinking and inspiring creativity at all levels of the business or organisation.

Do you ever feel jealous when new employees join your organisation full of zest, inquisitiveness and desire to make an immediate difference? You wonder how they have so much energy, eagerness and why they ask so many questions, even challenging what is working well! You don’t have to wonder, you too can channel the energy of the Rookie!!!

Halting Progress

Many leaders and managers feel frustrated with Rookies, more commonly known as new employees on their team, as the feel they are a short-term burden and at times a pest. They feel that the time it takes to train and invest in them is holding them back on current projects and immediate priorities. So, are leaders missing the point when we live in a constantly changing and evolving world?

I think so. If we take a look at people with experience, many tend to become stale and predictable, they stop seeing new possibilities and exploring new paths, and they are less likely to seek new perspectives. Due to habits performed over time, they tend to create several blind spots that hinder their growth as well as those they are leading or managing. (Wiseman, Unknown) It doesn’t have to be this way and there are a number of great examples of businesses and organisations, such as Apple, Google and Virgin, that are really effective at bringing out the Rookie in their team members.

“If we take a look at people with experience, many tend to become stale and predictable, they stop seeing new possibilities and exploring new paths, and they are less likely to seek new perspectives.”

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Photo Credit: Kaye Asavathanachard

Before we go into some strategies to develop successful ‘Rookie culture’ businesses or organisations, let’s first understand what usual practices impede an innovative and creative environment. According to Wiseman (Unknown) excessive meetings, criticising ideas, rule overload, resisting change and punishing failure are common ways that leaders effect Rookie’s spirit and creativity.

  • Excessive meetings – stifle progress, discourage Rookies, limited time for brainstorming or new ideas, experienced push their agendas, Rookies not invited to share ideas
  • Criticising ideas – Rookies need time and space to try new ideas. Constant criticism will lead to Rookies becoming disillusioned and a loss of productivity
  • Rule overload – Rookies bring fresh ideas and rules will stifle and prevent new, creative ideas
  • Resisting change – resisting organisational change will show Rookies that ideas are either not welcome or aren’t good enough to succeed previous successes.
  • Punish failure – will lead to people operating in a safe place within the status quo.

As leaders we have to kick ‘mediocrity’ in the butt, and utilise the positive attributes of our Rookies and enhance our business or organisation culture, across the board.

Rookies Bring an Edge

Rookies tend to be more alert, move quicker and work smarter due to the significant knowledge or skills gap they face. They are primed for knowledge environments where change is occurring quickly, speed of tasks is crucial and innovation matters. However, according to Wiseman (2014) “they’re not well-suited for tasks that require technical mastery or where a single mistake is game-ending”.

Top performing Rookies are alert and seeking, cautious and fast, hungry and relentless, and unencumbered. On the reverse side, low performing Rookies feel invincible, have something to prove and can go into autopilot. When we compare this to experienced team members, the top performers simplify and clarify, they are agile and persistent, and are resourceful. Low performing experienced team members also feel invincible but are hindered by defending a reputation, questioning their own ability and are threatened by the new kids on the block. (Wiseman, 2014)

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Photo Credit: TRIMag Asia

Leaders tend to underestimate the capabilities of Rookies and therefore delegate them mundane, easy and simple tasks when they first start in a role. Why not put their eagerness, energy and enthusiasm to play and allow them to make a difference right away? It provides a great opportunity to develop trust, build their self-esteem, feel part of the team and an opportunity to learn, whether they are successful or fail. They don’t necessarily need to be managed, “they need to be put in the game, pointed in the right direction, and given permission to play” (Wiseman, 2014).

Jon Gordon (Unknown) notes that “Rookies aren’t tainted by rejection, negative assumptions or past experiences. Rookies don’t focus on what everyone says is impossible”.  They tend to “put their head down, work hard, stay positive, live fearlessly and are naïve enough to be successful”. Rookies have a belief that anything is possible and there are no obstacles that are too difficult to navigate. “They bring an idealism, optimism and passion to their work”, and will proactively seek out knowledge, advice and support to make something happen.

They don’t necessarily need to be managed, “they need to be put in the game, pointed in the right direction, and given permission to play” (Wiseman, 2014).

Bring out the Rookie in You!

How do we stop the cycle of mediocrity and complacency and bring out the Rookie in all team members, including you as a leader?

Kelley & Kelley (2012) believe that a leader’s job is not to teach our team members creativity, but to help them rediscover their creative confidence. As a child we have a “natural ability to come up with new ideas” and we aren’t afraid give them a go. Through age, our experiences and self consciousness can lead to falling into safe comfort zones as we develop fears that hinder our progress. A leader has the power to reinvigorate team members, and give them the confidence and courage to bring out their creative juices. Kelley and Kelley (2012) suggest leaders should develop strategies to assist team members to overcome four fears that hold most people back:

“fear of the messy unknown, fear of being judged, fear of the first step, and fear of losing control”.

Leaders need to nurture team members in a way that supports an environment of growth and thriving, while helping team members overcoming fears that inhibit them. We need to create ways to reward failure, not just success and reserve punishment only for inaction. As Thomas Sowell once said, “It is amazing how fast people learn when they are not insulated from the consequences of their decisions”.  Team members must understand that learning beats knowing every time, and that progress is a result of wonder and curiosity. Bill Gates believes, “success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose”. So let’s give our team members the permission to fail and to screw up, so we open their minds up to new ideas.

Liz Wiseman (2014) was her most creative and productive, not from having fresh ideas, but from having no ideas at all. She explains that “when you know nothing you’re forced to create something. When you’re a Rookie, you’re also a pioneer. You’re out there on the frontier without confidence, so you have to focus on the basics. You end up operating very lean”. If we look back to when we were a child we liked to have fun and ask all types of questions, including quite a few silly ones. Levitt and Dubner  (2014) identified that “kids are also relentlessly curious and relatively unbiased. Because they know so little, they don’t carry around the preconceptions that often stop people from seeing things as they are.”

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Photo Credit: Sudanong Samantarat (Lek)

What should we do with those team members who spend every day talking and planning about what they are going to do but never do anything, or those are caught up in the ‘good old days’, complain about the way things are and are resistant to change? Should we ask them to leave, move them to a new department, demote them or even fire them? “Rookies don’t have experience. They don’t know about the way things were. They have no knowledge of the good ole days. Instead Rookies create their good ole days right now.” (Jon Gordon, Unknown)

As leaders we need to enable team members to use their experience to provide the business or organisation with expertise, and at the same time catalyse their Rookie mindsets to bring out optimism and passion in the work they do. Team members need to be inquisitive, utilise the knowledge of their networks, act cautiously but with speed, be hungry for results and relentless in the pursuit of new frontiers. We need to inspire our team members so they are pumped up for any opportunity, spread excitement across the business or organisation, have relentless pursuit and aren’t afraid of rejection or failure.

“As leaders we need to enable team members to use their experience to provide the business or organisation with expertise, and at the same time catalyse their Rookie mindsets to bring out optimism and passion in the work they do.”

It’s time to tap into your networks, forge new territory and generate fresh ideas. Let’s be willing to say ‘I don’t know’, ignore boundaries and ‘Bring out the Rookie‘ in you and your team members!

References

Gordon, J., (Unknown). Think Like a Rookie. www.jongordon.com. link

Kelley, T., Kelley, D., (2012). Reclaim Your Creative Conscious. Harvard Business Review, Dec. 2012. link

Levitt, S.D., & Dubner, S.J., (2014). Think Like a Freak: Secrets of the Rogue Economist. Penguin, UK.

Wiseman, L., (Unknown). Rookie Smarts Research. Rookie Smarts. link

Wiseman, L., (2014). Why Your Team Needs Rookies. Harvard Business Review, Oct. 2014. link

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