Learning It's Okay To Not Have The Answer Right Away

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Evva Semenowicz is a Brand Strategist at Team Eleven, a fully integrated creative agency based in the South West of the UK. She worked across life science, packaging, and immersive cinema production before making a move to brand strategy to indulge her love of people watching. This week, she shares the most important career advice she's ever received, and how it's shaped her approach to her work. Here's Evva—


  Image by    Nikolay Ivanov

Five months into my new role as a strategist, I was sitting in a cafe next to our office, drinking a very thick almond milk cappuccino, chatting to my boss. We talked about how things were going; challenges, things that excited me, and things that I was not so keen on. I felt the need to impress in my new role, I wanted people to like me and see me as a useful resource. I wholeheartedly wanted to contribute to the overall growth of the business. The reality is, I wanted my presence to be felt; both in terms of culture and business. I felt a self-imposed pressure to come across as competent. 

Joining a new team is a tricky business. It is a balancing act between being a team player, but also establishing a clear path for your own growth; wanting to be liked and learning to say no; learning team dynamics and work patterns. And then there’s the politics of office chairs and fridge space. It’s a complex territory to navigate and I can’t stress how important it is to have regular, honest catch ups and mini reviews with your boss to help you find your way.

During one of the weekly catch-ups, my boss gave me the single, most important career and life advice to date: ‘You don’t have to answer straight away’. Instead, you can simply say, ‘I don’t know, let me have a think,’ or ‘I need time to think about it’. It was as if somebody took a really heavy rucksack I was carrying and said, ‘You know you can just leave it here?' 

  Image from    Buzzfeed

Image from Buzzfeed

That single phrase made me realise the power that lies in admitting that you don’t have the answer right now, and that that’s ok. For anyone suffering from impostor syndrome (even the MD of Social Chain gets it), being upfront about not having all the answers is a great way to tackle your challenges head on. It takes courage, self-awareness, and expertise to take a step back, think and consult others. And these are the traits of character that we should nurture. It’s not about having all the answers, it’s about the ability to search for them.

Doctors analyse the available data, do research and consult colleagues before they give you the diagnosis, and yet you wouldn’t call them incompetent for not having the answer straight away.

We live in an instant culture that allows you to react to anything with a single click of a button; like, dislike, yes, no, share. These reactions require very little engagement but give us presence. And, of course, they play a valuable role in our world, but we need to learn to separate them from instances that require consideration. It’s about resisting the need for immediate engagement. About stepping back and not feeling the imperative to respond to the e-mail that just came through. Bob Geldof, one of the most outspoken critics of e-mail, says that they give a false sense of achievement. As a result, we clog our inboxes and don’t allow time for things to be considered. 

  Image from    The Observer

Image from The Observer

As a strategist, it is simply impossible to do your job well while being reactive. Our job is to question, and it is a skill to be practiced daily until it becomes a default. Of course, there is value in immediacy of reactions, the gut feeling, the first impressions, your intiution. These are things that we ought to nourish, but not necessarily act on straight away. 

I once read somewhere (TOP TIP: keep a journal of all the media you consume) that strategy is going with your gut feeling and then researching the shit out of it. I think it’s so apt—allowing space for trusting your intuition and being smart enough to know it needs consideration. 

So at the top of of my work and life objectives is getting comfortable with not having answers and enjoying the process of searching for them. If you don’t know something, say it and be resourceful enough to come up with ways to find out. 

You got this,
Evva

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