Stroke of genius

I am a genius. At least, in the past, that's how I've been introduced to new colleagues at work. "This is Paul, he's our digital guru".

But, of course, I'm not. In fact I'm in no way approaching genius status. But despite knowing this when I first heard it I still felt flattered as it played to my ego. After all, I have always been motivated by being as useful as possible to my team. I thrived on knowing little tricks to get the job done quicker or by having the ability to devise a technical solution faster than anyone else.

Of course, if I let being spoken about like this go to my head, whatever modicum of talent I do have will be squandered. I need to feel I have so much still to learn to motivate me on to do better. After all, my name (Paul) literally means 'small' or 'humble'. A sobering reminder to never let my ego get the better of me.

Nowadays I cringe when introduced as a 'Guru' or 'Ninja', because it undermines my process.

“Guru” implies that I can single-handedly solve every digital challenge. It implies that alone I have the power to make their problems go away. But this is too much expectation for anyone to handle.

Calling me a guru implies that I am superior to everyone else in the room, and have an especially privileged place on the team. It also works as a method to deflect any difficult questions to me as Mr. Fix it. "Go to Paul if you have any technical questions". "Paul knows the difference between all of the file types so I don't have to". "If the photocopier is broken go to Paul, he has 'digital' in his job title".

All this means it's harder for me to do my job. I get interrupted the most as the pressure is on me to fix people's problems when the CMS doesn't behave. I'm called on to decode technical jargon used by agencies. All I need is a few of these and suddenly the pressure of my own deadlines are doubled. So how should I address it?

Well firstly, it's good manners to accept compliments. Protesting too much would only serve to reinforce that I do indeed have this image of myself. If I do seem in any way seem like an expert in anything it will be due to a combination of gifts naturally given and hard work. It's worth reminding people what it takes to progress by describing earlier efforts and learning experiences.

Emphasising the activity is important to remind people that you are overseeing a process. By going through the sequence of activities to deliver a project it shows where you will be relying on them to provide input.

Realising and acknowledging when you should plead ignorance is important. Whilst your subject knowledge may be strong, perhaps your knowledge of the project or business is not. I frequently need to tell myself that staying quiet in meetings can be a lot more useful than striving to drive the conversation and find solutions.

If your work is anything like mine, you work on difficult problems. I frequently am called on to decipher jargon and act as a liaison with the technical details. Perhaps I get called a genius so that people can hide that they don’t understand what’s going on. You don’t have to call anyone out, and highlighting that this is difficult work can go a long way to set the right tone. “We’re learning as we go, so ask a lot of questions. I know I will!”

A luxury I never seem to have is time. But it's vital when working on complicated stuff not to rush things. Take time to explain everything. Externalise your thought process and show your work. Rather than scheduling one long review meeting each week, have shorter conversations more frequently.

I try to frequently remind myself that I'm very favoured to have a job that really interests me. Whilst the ability to keep going is down to our natural gifts it's important to keep a boundless appetite for learning. We all make some good decisions and learn from the not-so-good ones.
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