I’m fortunate that my best friend from high school remains my best friend till this day. While we were in highschool, she often had to remind me “Change Gears! You are walking way too fast and wasting energy!” It was a joke between us till this day.

Turned out that was the most useful lesson i learned last year, and remained the one lesson that had the most impact on my professional life since I graduated from college.

Last week i wrote to my ex-boss out of the blue and thanked him for all the advices he tried to give me while he was my boss, i refused to listen then but i remembered them, and when i tried to apply some of his advices, the result was astonishingly good.

One of them was similar to my best friend’s exclamation, “Change Gears! You are too fast!” Translating to work term is this, “do not try to do everyone’s job for them, when you think they are not fast enough or good enough by your standard.”

In reality, when everyone pitches in, the result is almost always inevitably better than if i tried to do it on my own(hehe, that was a line from another ex-boss of mine. I’ve had the good fortune to have really wise bosses.). Even though in the short term, it might have seemed my way would be more efficient or faster. In the long term, it was bad for the morale of the team–because everyone wants to feel useful and to have ownership, it could be bad for the actual outcome too–because more people will paint a more thorough and complete picture so the solution at the end often would be better than my own.

The only price i had to pay is the time, what i learned in 2008 was the realization that i don’t have to drag everyone at my speed. Allow people to work in their own pace, even when final result is a little later than expected is usually acceptable. Lastly but not the least, i suddenly have more time to do my own share of the work because I didn’t have to do 2 or 3 people’s work at the same time. What a deal!

The funny thing is the only reason i allowed myself to follow this particular advice from my ex-boss last year was because i was in the lowest point of my career since i joined my current company. I felt mentally defeated after i did two difficult projects using my way and the results both came back disappointing. At the time i was very skeptical and depressed about work. I was in this “i do not care anymore” stage. So i let people go off and do their own thing. I wasn’t energetic enough to try to pick up their “slack”, “why bother?” i thought to myself. When the end result turned out to be so good, i was shocked! How could that be?

Then i realized what had just happened. Subsequently i realized the brilliance of my ex-boss and my best friend’s advices to me all these years.

The catch is once things are going well, i’m happy and excited about my work again, then i tend to forget. Since i don’t always have Gui with me, i need to remind myself ‘you are too fast! STOP’

This is what is happening right now actually. We were in the middle of final field test of a product. The test result came in the middle of Friday afternoon. I sent it over to the team, but didn’t hear back from them within an hour. I got impatient and examed the result myself and spotted some issue. Sent the team my finding, hoping for some confirmation. Heard none after another hour, i got impatient again and went ahead and sent the issue i found back to the customer. Turned out some of my findings were wrong (duh!) and for the ones were real issues, customer came back with an explanation. But i don’t know whether it is a legitimate excuse. By then it was midnight Friday. I told the customer we won’t have an answer till Saturday the earliest.

This morning, no answer from the team. I got impatient again, just when i about to go dig the source code and read for myself, i saw this huge ‘STOP’ sign in my head. So i stopped and waited. We have a really really good team. I should let them do their job. It is a weekend, everyone (including the customer) will understand if the turn around time is a bit slow.

Sure enough, just when i’m typing this, one of our team members sends in his suggestions/questions from his mobile phone. It is something i hadn’t thought of. I happily forward the msg along to our customer. I feel so relieved that i had waited.

While i was waiting, i surveyed everything else i ended up taking on during the week (it had been a hectic week) and realized i could hand off another Q&A session from our European office to a Hongkong colleague, who worked with me on the same project and was an expert on the subject. So i did and a few hours late when Asia woke up, i saw a reply came back from HK, a lot more detailed, insightful and i imagine a lot more useful than anything i could have come up with if i had spent the Saturday afternoon digging around and piecing puzzles.

i need to go and steal a real STOP sign and put it in my cube, and maybe even put a little STOP sign on the edge of my laptop screen. 🙂

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