What Do You Just “See”?

One of my cousins is a totally extroverted, outgoing “superconnecter”. She is all people, all the time. She’s been everything from a restaurant hostess to a greeter and mascot’s assistant at Pittsburgh Pirates games to a small businesswoman with multiple product lines. When asked to provide a starting list of contacts for Mary Kay she quickly gave them 500 names. She had a car in four months when she really got going.

During a recent conversation she observed, and mind you she said this at about five hundred miles an hour, that when she’s talking with somebody she knows “what the other person’s going to say and what I’m going to say and what they’re going to say next and what I’m going to say next and what they’re going to say after that and what I’m going to say after that about three levels out.” She kept right on going but my takeaway was that conversations and people are what she just “sees”.

While I’ve gotten a lot smoother and more aware over the years I’m never going to see the world and people like that. Everybody has a specialty, though, and mine is looking under the hood to see how all the pieces fit together. I don’t know if it’s because I played with every building toy known to Man when I was young, but once I understand how the pieces of anything work I can just “see” how they can fit together and what you can do with them. This is true of systems I’m analyzing, programming tools, data schemes, or anything else. Having seen so many systems I have a definite knack for breaking them down and figuring out what needs to be captured and changed and implemented. If technique, feel, and experience don’t get me where I need to go (I’ve heard it said that an expert is someone who knows enough to look at something and go, “that’s odd”), my willingness to wallow around in a subject until I “see” what I’m looking for will get me the rest of the way there.

I’ve also figured out how to talk to and work with all different kinds of people to make that happen, as customers and colleagues, as mentees and bosses, and as strangers and friends. I got better at this first in professional situations. A supervisor put me in the lead with clients at an early job because he thought I had “customer savvy”. I’m thinking, “Me?” I was just doing what came naturally, trying to figure out what they needed, what the system we were planning needed, and what I needed to help them.

Many professional situations are structured so you know what the relationships are supposed to be. As long as everyone is pleasant and sticks to the program things usually go well in the short run. In the longer run it’s a good idea to establish a basic framework for communication. The Project Management Body of Knowledge suggests when formal plans are necessary while frameworks like Scrum define details about those plans and Six Sigma gives advice on handling problems. Formal systems like that are good guides and you can take a lot from them. They help you “see” those things more quickly if you don’t have the experience or if they don’t come naturally. Nothing, however, can take the place of thinking about what you want to do ahead of time and being conscious of how you want to do it. Whether short or long run, it’s helpful to establish ground rules where possible, even if informally. Make sure everyone else does the same.

I’ve seen a lot of meetings and projects go well and go poorly over the years and I’ve learned from all of it. What motivates me today is less the technical stuff than making sure all the participants in a process are respected and get what they need. I love the technical part, it’s still what I naturally “see”, after all. It’s a measure of the passion I’ve developed for taking care of people that I often “see” that even more.

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