At this writing, I’m suffering from a bad cold. I’ve had worse, but this one has still knocked me down enough that I’m not getting much sleep at night, so I’m definitely feeling “out of it”. Yesterday, after I had finished working for the day, I tried to take a nap to help. Instead, I couldn’t sleep not only because I was coughing, but I had a hundred thoughts running through my head. For some odd reason, I started thinking about a job that I had years ago. In the many years I’ve worked, it was the only job in which I was outright dismissed. I don’t mean laid off or my contract ended. I was sacked. That was about fourteen years ago. Now, granted, I was miserable in that job, and cried every day. I was trying to figure a way out of the job, but they let me go instead. I didn’t like that, because I wanted to go out on my terms, not theirs, and they were really rude when letting me go.
I was a project manager for a global news agency, working on a business project that they had. I was still very green as a project manager, and I know I was their second choice when hiring. I had the option to take another job for an e-learning firm, which in retrospect I probably should’ve taken, but hindsight is 20/20. It was an industry I was unfamiliar with, and my manager was not exactly very good at explaining to me what he wanted me to do with the project. I was rather intimidated by him, so even if I asked questions, I got unclear answers, and I got the impression he didn’t like to be bothered.
But as I was thinking about this situation yesterday and how rotten I felt at that job, I remembered an initiative that I tried that my manager thought was a waste of time, but in retrospect I know was actually on the cutting edge. Since the job I had before this particular job was as a content project manager creating web courses for one of the first e-learning dot-coms out there, I put my knowledge to use. The news agency was sending me and others out to various clients and newspapers to personally train others on how to use our specialized CMS product used to place advertising information. I got the notion that we could save some money and time out of the office if we created a basic online tutorial that anyone could access. Pretty good thinking, right? I created the course, and presented it to my boss. He had some others review it with him, and they ripped it to shreds. No, it wasn’t perfect, but heck, it was on the right track, but they weren’t going to admit that. Without any guidance or constructive feedback about my own project or any others I was working on, I was eventually let go. The job has haunted me for years. It’s taken me almost a decade and a half to regain some of the confidence I had back then when I first started that job.
As I laid in bed yesterday trying to nap, I realized that in the long run, I had done something right. The news agency was not smart enough to see the benefits. I knew e-learning was the way to go, and the simple tutorial I created would have saved thousands of dollars in travel costs for the company. It was forward thinking for 14 years ago. Many companies today are still getting on board with online training, yet here I was trying to bring this global news agency into the 21st century ahead of the rest. They missed out.
The point of this story is this: don’t be afraid to be forward thinking when it comes to tech comm. I try to stay on top of the latest trends and thoughts about different tech comm and e-learning topics because I know that this brings value to a company. Whether it’s adopting DITA practices in content strategy, or employing m-learning, forward thinking is what is going to eventually separate the innovation of one company from another. Granted, not all higher-ups are going to always listen to your forward thinking, but it takes only one time for someone to hear you and help move things forward in a positive direction. Hanging back in the past and taking the attitude of “This is the way we’ve always done it” isn’t going to work anymore. Technology is moving too fast to keep that attitude. Yes, there’s some risk involved, since no one knows what’s going to work best and be adopted as a standard in the future. Unless you take that first step, you are never going to find out.
Being a technical communicator these days means being on the cutting edge, and finding new ways to disseminate content, whether it be print or digital. Your customers are keeping up with new technologies and methodologies, so you should too.
I can look back now at that news agency job and realize that while I might have failed at that job, I did some things right. I look back at other jobs as well where I made forward-thinking suggestions that weren’t taken while I was there. I would often find out after I left that I was on the right track, and their inability to act would catch them off-guard later. Be the one to speak up.
One reason I like the job I have now is that I can speak up and put ideas forward. Some are accepted, and some aren’t, but at least they are considered. In some instances, a company knows they have to move forward, but they don’t have the resources or support, but they continue to push the initiative. I feel better knowing that I’m taking pro-active steps to move in new directions, which benefit both me and my company in the long run.
Have you had any realizations that you were ahead of the curve after the fact? Share your insights in the comments.