Thinking beyond our jobs

One trait I admire and respect in people is thinking and acting beyond their job.

Everyone has to demonstrate they can basically do their job—that’s a foundation before they can earn the right to do much else within an organisation. And (almost) everyone I’ve worked with achieves that, of course. But thinking (and acting) beyond one’s own job helps others and earns great respect.

How much beyond their own job? The obvious answer is to recognise that we are each there for the good of the organisation. Beyond demonstrating those fundamental skills of doing whatever is in our job description it is helpful to support the organisation generally—for example, by understanding and helping the corporate strategy, acting in line with organisational values, and so on.

But sometimes that’s misplaced. I know of too many people who thought a company was going off track and sought to tell the leaders at great length what they should be doing instead. That’s not just supporting the company, it’s close to trying to run it, and those individuals inevitably had not shown that they were excelling sufficiently at their own jobs to justify telling someone else how to do theirs.

So often there’s a skill in finding a higher purpose to one’s job which is enough to bring new benefits but stops short of trying to manage everything. A very long time ago I worked with someone who did this.

These were the days when commercial enterprise systems were the default option for most large organisations, and it wasn’t obvious to everyone that open source software could cut the mustard. This organisation, therefore, ran large Oracle databases and had one vastly knowledgeable individual who maintained them. He understood how they worked, capabilities we weren’t yet exploiting, and adjacent Oracle technologies which might potentially help us. He seemed to live and breathe the deeply complex universe that was Oracle databases.

But it started becoming apparent that new projects could probably do better on open source options. And some people had done some calculations about the viability of switching our existing Oracle-based systems to open source, and it seemed that the (large) cost of switching would easily be repaid by eliminating our Oracle licence fees; we could even simplify things. What began as a whisper was fast becoming impossible to ignore, and I wondered what the Oracle expert was thinking as he heard more and more voices threatening to overturn everything he’d worked for for so many years.

And then one day he started supporting those open source advocates, too. He also started planning how to do the replacement, and almost immediately became the one driving it forward. So I had to ask him how he came to detach himself from what seemed to be so much of his career to date. “I realised I’m not an Oracle person,” he said, “I realised I’m a database person.”

I admired him hugely for this—it seemed like an enomous personal leap. He had been able to see beyond the immediate bounds of his job (a job which he had grow in for years) for the benefit of everyone—himself, of course, in the long run, but also the people around him.

Photo by jessicahtam