Everyone has specific tips and shortcuts that they have picked up from various sources, including the following:
- Trial & error or self-discovery
- From a friend or colleague
- Reading books, blog posts, articles
- Watching videos, conferences
- Formal education
Regardless of how one has gained these skills, it is obvious that they increase their effectiveness and efficiency at tasks. With enough exposure and time, one can amass an impressive assortment of skills, tips and shortcuts. We tend to call these people veterans/experts/experienced/seniors, amongst other words of praise and respect.
This post is not directed towards a specific group of individuals, as the overarching message applies to everyone. It is common to find large visible gaps with respect to skills and/or experience. For example, within a workplace environment a more experienced colleague might have customized and automated parts of their daily workflow to increase their effectiveness and efficiency.
The Bag of Tricks
In general the following is true:
Experienced individuals have something which sets them apart from the less-experienced.
Let us ignore the common qualities that account for uniqueness such as personality, and focus solely on ones skills and experience. Then, it's possible to identify their bag of tricks.
A bag of tricks is really a simple concept. Often it is a set of small tips and shortcuts used to make certain tasks easier than they normally would be.
Bag of Tricks | bag əv triks | noun
1 informal a set of ingenious plans, techniques, or resources: I better pull something out of my bag of tricks to finish this task quickly
In some cases the holder of the bag of tricks clearly knows what resides in their bag. In other cases they might be forgetting some items, which occurs over time as the holder has completely integrated it into their normal repertoire.
Sharing the Bag
Often in workplaces we have various levels of experience such as: Junior, Intermediate, Senior. In our societies we have accepted the following model:
Experienced individuals can mentor the less experienced pupils
This is a very simple learning model, and it works. It can be seen in many industries and professions as they promote formal mentorship/apprenticeship programs. These formal programs often have a cost associated with them, although that typically correlates with the quality received. Informal approaches are often executed between colleagues with little structure.
Everyone has something worth showing. Someone will be interested in learning it, or improving upon it. Levels of experience does not guarantee one will always be teaching or learning. In a symbiotic relationship everyone will be sharing their bag of tricks.
Getting a peek at someone's bag of tricks is of great benefit for the pupil. If someone offers advice, there should be no hesitation to accept it. A pupil, or anyone for that matter, should always accept the offer of advice since there is no downside to hearing it out. Even if the pupil has already known about the provided advice, the act of hearing it again reinforces it. It might also be possible for the pupil to give back immediately to the mentor.
The best thing a pupil can do is to provide feedback and appreciation. By questioning the mentor and asking for additional details, it forces the mentor to inspect and reflect on their bag of tricks. In some situation the tides can change and the mentor will learn from the pupil.
Mentors are encouraged to share their bag of tricks, and most are willing to do so. Sharing knowledge has many benefits:
- Joy in helping someone
- Gained respect from pupil and others
- Self-improvement by going over specifics
- Constructive criticism
- Encouraging similar behaviour
Sharing and helping can bring much joy to a mentor, which in turn leads to gaining respect from the pupil and others. As previously mentioned, a mentor may not necessarily know of the content of their bag of tricks. A pupil can probe and inquire on specifics to the point where new light is shone on the bag of tricks. By mentoring a pupil, it encourages others to do the same when they have amassed their own bag of tricks.
To Share, or Not to Share?
There might be situations where an individual does not want to share their bag of tricks. One strong reason for this is that they would lose their edge over their colleagues. This is understandable, although if the environment is amenable to learning then there is no real reason to hold back.
If everyone in an environment is holding back on knowledge, it does not sound like a place of growth. Furthermore, if everyone is scared of losing their edge, there are probably greater issues in that environment. If there is no sharing of knowledge between colleagues, everyone is at a disadvantage compared to the alternative.
Means of Sharing
It is clear that sharing is a win-win situation. In a workplace environment sharing knowledge is simple and commonplace. Either the pupil asks for help, or the mentor decides to impart knowledge. If the environment is pro-learning then this behaviour will be encouraged and valued. There might even be an explicit mentoring process in place or less informal opportunities such as lunch and learns.
As mentioned before, anyone can mentor regardless of their skill and experience levels. Everyone should take every opportunity to share something from their bag of tricks. Not only will this immediately benefit others, but what goes around comes around. Sharing can take many forms, including the following:
- Blog Posts, Public Notes, Documentation
- Mentoring, Pairing Sessions
- Talks, Presentations, Demonstrations
- Video/Audio Recordings
The best way is to reach a broad audience, so that everyone can benefit from it. Thankfully the Internet is an amazing medium to communicate to the masses.
Take pride and share your bag of tricks!