Are you paid to think?

For most of my career, I’ve been in positions where I got paid to think. It was my job to solve really interesting, and often, really hard problems. If things ever got to a point of monotony, I knew it was time to move on. I have applied this same philosophy to those that work for me. If you worked for me, I wanted to pay you to think. I wanted you to observe and learn and challenge and grow. If there was ever a point where you outgrew the role, I wanted to send you off knowing you had a great experience and learned a lot.

I was recently in contact with a guy, Andy, who worked for me about 7 years ago. At the time, he was just out of college and I was hiring him for a billing analyst role. The responsibilities included: engaging with customers to solve their billing problems; invoice generation & delivery; generation of monthly reporting and data entry for new or updated customer information. We leveraged a combination of web applications, a home-grown visual basic application and Access, along with standard email queue software. After teaching Andy the basics of how the system worked and the overall processes required to do the job, he had full oversight of the process. I was their for escalation and final review/quality assurance.

I remember that Andy asked questions constantly. As I recall, most of the questions were basic questions or ones that he could have figured out if he had spent 5 minutes doing a bit a digging. Apparently, out of frustration one day, I told him “I’m paying you think.” I hadn’t remembered this conversation specifically, but I’m sure I said it. Andy on the other hand, remembers this conversation vividly. As he tells it “That one sentence changed my everything.” Nobody had ever challenged him. When things got hard, he would ask someone instead of thinking about it himself.

Unfortunately, I hear this same story from my friends and see it in my kids. If you want to know something today, you google it. But what happens if the exact results aren’t on the first page? Most people don’t go to the next one. They probably change their search criteria. Often what you are really looking for is the thing that is a couple of layers in, that you only got to by following the breadcrumbs from one result to a reference in another.

I’d like to challenge each of us to make sure we are challenging those around us to think, and are being challenged to think. It is only when we are all paid to think will we solve the really hard problems. We have to stop allowing¬†those around us to use us as a crutch.