I was recently visiting with a friend who retired after working as an executive for many years. He was sharing that he recently went to a doctor’s office and noticed some inefficiencies in the way they were handling their business and found himself making suggestions to the receptionist about how they could make it better. I encouraged him to find some better outlets for the skills and expertise he’s built over the years. 🙂 Much of his advice to me has been invaluable, he knows what he’s talking about, but sometimes knowing the best course doesn’t mean that others want to know it.
When we start working, especially in engineering, our manager gives us very specific problems that need to be solved. It’s not altogether different from when we were in school and received homework. But as we become more experienced, we’re paid not only to solve the problems we are given, but also identify problems that should be solved, and then solve those too. We take initiative to make things better. It takes time to train our intuition so that we identify valuable projects instead of just work no one cares about, but as we do more of this, we become more valuable to the organization. Moreover, the problems we identify and solve become more ambiguous from figure out how to fix this problem to figure out how to write tools that make the engineers more effective.
As we progress, we eventually reach a stage where we have opinions and even expertise about how other people should be driving their projects. We’ve been there before and we see an easier path for everyone involved. We could offer unsolicited advice about how to make the organization work better, but often unsolicited advice is neither heeded nor appreciated. So not only do things stay the same, but our ability to influence things in the future gets worse. If the decisions affect our work directly, management expects us to provide feedback (until they make a decision then execute on what they decided), but as our feedback starts affecting others, we sometimes have to learn how to say, that’s not our problem and be quiet. This isn’t an excuse to be complacent: we still need to be available to give feedback and pitch in, but we also know when it’s better for others to find the path on their own rather than annoying them with our opinion.