26 Mar Please don’t stay in your lane
This is the third version of this article I’ve attempted to write. This is a very inefficient blogging habit. But there’s an idea here that won’t let me write anything else. So what is it I really want to say? It’s this: Please don’t stay in your lane.
Imagine a 3-hour drive down the interstate. Could you do the entire trip without changing lanes? Knowing the trip is much faster and safer if you can freely change lanes, would you even try staying in just one lane?
Work requires us to move freely in and out of lanes. It’s how any of us get anything done. We know this. We also resist it.
At the risk of sounding like a motivational-speaker, I’ll say it anyway. We need your ideas. We need you to think – big messy, confusing, thoughts and deceptively simple, precise thoughts.
And thinking requires us to come out of our lanes often.
When we give ourselves permission to think, we bump our ideas and thinking against other people’s thoughts. We learn to maneuver around obstacles. We become better drivers. All of these are good and important.
But here’s a more compelling fact: Nothing very interesting ever happens if you stay in your lane.
So be curious, be brave, and lead.
My friend Adam is voraciously curious. He has continually challenged himself by enlisting thought-partners outside his expertise and role level.
And he’s had his hands slapped plenty of times, with people criticizing him for “complicating things.” More than once he’s been scolded, “Stay in your lane.”
These comments understandably frustrated and confused him. If Adam’s “lane” was his work and his expertise, those required him to analyze, ask questions, and fill in gaps. And since his work was constantly changing, he had to share information, collaborate, and challenge assumptions to find answers.
But the reality was that the hand-slapping, while embarrassing, never had actual consequences. And although the scolding made him feel terrible, it also made no sense.
Both just felt limiting and small. Getting to real solutions motivated him more.
And that motivation allowed him to be brave.
More than once, Adam told me that if he did what he was told and stayed in his lane, he’d be terrible at his job. During one of our conversations, he asked how he could convince people to see the bigger picture. I shared with him what worked for me, which was largely ignoring unhelpful comments and asking people, “What do you think?”
For my curious friend, this was more than enough for him to experiment.
A few days later, he sent me an email about a meeting he’d attended with a diverse group of peers. The meeting went in loops for half an hour. As a group of peers, no one was “in charge,” and none of them knew how think outside their expertise long enough to move the work forward.
But Adam knew how, so he did.
Adam didn’t question whether it was his lane to help lead the meeting. He just asked the group what would be possible if they looked at the problem differently. He asked what they could be missing, which generated ideas from the whole group.
And he asked sincerely, “What do you think?”
By asking open-ended, thoughtful questions, Adam gave permission to each person to think outside of their lanes, silos, and comfort zones. More precisely, he gave them permission to think.
By stepping out of his own lane, he also made it safe for everyone else to venture out of theirs.
Adam later sent me an email about how well his experiment worked. His peers even thanked him for asking great questions– and for jumping in to save the meeting.
Make it interesting.
When we dare to come out of our lanes, sometimes we’re rewarded. Adam’s curiosity and courage eventually led to more recognition and a promotion.
And sometimes we get our hands slapped, which can tempt us to go nowhere.
But work is way more interesting and much easier when think, ask questions, and lead. So make your work interesting.
And please don’t stay in your lane.
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