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Arit Okpo: A Little Research Never Hurt Anyone! Keep Calm & Learn It Yourself

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arit-okpoI got my first post NYSC job in 2005. I was waiting for my Masters admission and my friend’s mother suggested that while I was waiting, I work with her niece who was starting a school. I agreed, and during that job, learned a valuable lesson that has shaped my life.

It’s something I’ll call the L-I-Y Principle – Learn It Yourself

My boss had just moved to Nigeria and was starting a school with no experience, and even less money. She did not have the time, funds or inclination to hire people for half of the things we needed to do. I had never done a lot of the work that I had to do and she really wasn’t going to hold my hand through the learning process; meaning that half the time, I had to figure stuff out myself.

Google became my best friend. “Arit, we need a logo for the letterhead” – Arit goes on Google, finds out how and creates what was the most amateurish logo in the history of amateur logos. “Arit, we need a brochure for the school” – Arit googles the top schools of our age grade and formats and scripts brochure accordingly. “Arit we need policies and guidelines” “Arit we need training modules” “Arit we need homework ideas” “Arit we need….” Whatever we needed, best believe I googled it, learned about it and then shared it with my team.
When I left that school I could stand shoulder to shoulder with the country’s best minds on Early Years education; almost completely from the internet.

I moved from that job to one as Programs something or the other for an NGO in the set up process. Guess who had to create the structure for the NGO? While you’re at it, guess who googled her way from beginning to end. Yup! The NGO didn’t happen and I was moved to the marketing division of the parent company. There, I had to create a marketing structure for the company. Bear in mind, I had no previous knowledge or experience of this. The internet again, was my friend.

In the 11 years that I have been in paid employment, I have had to research and question more than I have been taught. I have worked in education, public relations, marketing and media; my degree is in Biochemistry.

Flash forward (is that a word?) to very recently, when I asked a team member to compile a list of people for me with pictures and bios. Her response? “I don’t know how to insert a picture”. Guys, I needed a minute because I was discombobulated. First, why is it ok to tell your team lead that you cannot do this task? Second, what on earth was she expecting me to do as a response? I gathered myself and referred her to someone who could teach her.

There is a member of our office who started out work in janitorial services. One day, we saw him working at a computer; he was learning how to log content. Next thing, I heard that he had started media management for one of our teams. Recently, I discovered that he has started learning to edit videos. ALL BY HIMSELF…ON HIS OWN!!! Dare I say that this guy will never be out of a job? I can say it with such confidence because in the years that I have known him, I have seen him evolve. What he doesn’t know, I can say for certain he will learn.

The world is evolving with almost terrifying speed. Skills highly prized last year are irrelevant today. There is not enough time to go to school to keep learning, there are not enough training sessions in the world and there are not enough people willing to give you the time or the space to take time off and learn. If you cannot L-I-Y, you my friend, will be left behind.

Sometimes, the reason why your subordinate got a job that you were better qualified for is not because your line manager is a tribalistic feminist who hates chubby guys. Sometimes the answer simply is that the person you were passed over for, has displayed a better ability to learn, self-audit and transfer skills – meaning that even if they don’t know the job yet, they will learn it so much quicker than you are predicted to.

There are few things more frustrating to me than having a team member come to me with a problem, and when I ask for their back up plan, they look at me blankly. It upsets me when people expect to be fed information, processes and outcomes. It pains me when I have to explain today the same thing I explained 3 months ago. I had to warn someone once to stop replying me with “I don’t know” and substitute it with “Let me find out and get back to you”

I hear a lot of times that there are no jobs…this isn’t strictly true, because there will always be space for highly motivated and self-auditing people who are constantly learning and building on their skills. In the highly competitive work environment of today, you will always need an edge to be the Option A.

Keep calm and L-I-Y.

16 Comments

  1. moi

    October 31, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    “I hear a lot of times that there are no jobs…this isn’t strictly true, because there will always be space for highly motivated and self-auditing people who are constantly learning and building on their skills.”
    Truer words have never been spoken!
    I work as a bilingual assistant and would like to build a career in corporate administration. So far, I can’t seem to get a clear path of new things to learn. SAP for instance, at my place of work, is restricted and not for everyone and from what I found out, it’s very expensive to learn on my own. I really need a mentor who can invest in me. I am 100% certain that he/she would benefit a million folds in return.

  2. .....just saying

    October 31, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    “Arit we need homework ideas” ? Really? Little wonder the Nigerian educational system is very dysfunctional Drops Mic

    • Just saying also

      October 31, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      I don’t know Arit. I have kids and there is alot of montessori teaching out there for you on the internet. So you don’t have to be a teacher to get homework on the internet.

  3. Itua

    October 31, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    “I hear a lot of times that there are no jobs…this isn’t strictly true, because there will always be space for highly motivated and self-auditing people”

    This is so true! Thank you for writing this well-timed piece. Sadly our schools are churning out graduates who only know how to cram and regurgitate. But young people need to start taking their education in their own hands. As your experience shows, you can learn pretty much anything on the internet these days, so poor institutions are not an excuse for ignorance or ineptitude.

  4. Nelo

    October 31, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Some people need serious hand holding while others are innovative. After getting a degree in Advertising and communications, i got a job outside my field. 5 years after, i am still very interested in getting a job in communications and content marketing/management. But i realised the chances of getting a job in this field after many years of not practising were zero.

    What did i do? i gave myself a year to learn all the skills and experience i needed for my ideal role. I have had to learn it all by myself-content management, blog design on blogger and wordpress, website design, getting published on renowned online publications, etc. I am still searching, but at least i know when the right opportunity comes up, i will be ready to snag it.

  5. Sisi

    October 31, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Daassssssss righhhhttttt. Honestly such people as the one you described with the inserting pictures task make me shiver. Like seriously?! From a young age my mother always drummed it into my head use your initiative, google is lierally my best friend. Whenever I would ask my Dad how do you spell xyz, he would say go and pick your dictionary. The way we’ve been brought up plays a role here but we should always strive to improve ourselves to be self sufficient, ever improving seekers of knowledge. You will not be spoon fed in the work place, rather you will be dismissed. There is nothing wrong with asking for help but you should always attempt to find the solution to any problem you face yourself first – the solution may just be to ask someone for help.

  6. Naija gal

    October 31, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I think this was the best thing my M.Sc year taught me. From making my hair cos paying someone 40 pounds to do so was too painful to learning difficult engineering concepts that were far from my background and many more. Throughout this period, Google and YouTube were my besties.
    In the end, if you really want answers and put a little effort towards asking, you’d definitely find.

  7. tunmi

    October 31, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Google is truly the greatest thing ever. There is not a thing you cannot learn on it. I used it to under my immigration status and research for scholarships. We have constant Internet access and electricity and the computer is right in front of them, and someone will still ask something they could easily look up.

  8. Abominable snow girl

    October 31, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Google it. Just Google it. I totally agree.

  9. Felinda

    October 31, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    There are $5000 SAP courses and they are also $500 SAP courses offered by Indian gurus located in India and will teach you via long distance and video lectures and where u get access to the SAP server to practice. How do I know this, because I researched and I registered studied and got certified. I have sis it many times utilize Google nd research.

    USE YOUR MOBILE DATA WISELY on better things DO YOUR RESEARCH that will help you.

    Nothing comes easy. Do the work. You will appreciate it more. At least even start with YouTube or Udemy.com, or Lynda.com. I decided I will guide folks who need it but I will not give you all the answers on a silver platter , like I use to in the past and 99% of folks did not show appreciation after the fact. Do the work.

  10. ThatShyChic

    October 31, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Lovely piece. My current job role requires i do a lot more than my field of expertise. There are some days when it’s a quite overwhelming but i absolutely love the challenge. Typical phone conversations with my boss, Mr M.

    Mr M; ”Hello ThatShyChic, do you know how to use… (insert a random name of a task or software i have never heard about), I need xyz task done by close of business today”
    Me: *opening browser and frantically searching for named task* ”Hello Sir, alright, I will get back to you”
    Mr M: ”Okay, I’m expecting your mail with xyz done”
    Me: *asking myself* ”What on earth just happened, did I just agree to do that? Next time I will simply say no ”

    2 days later, repeat same conversation, change name of software or task.
    *facepalm*

    I’m glad for the opportunity to learn new things and go beyond my comfort zone though. The day Architecture seizes to pay the bills I hope these skills Mr M has made me acquire come in handy.

  11. Mz Socially Awkward...

    October 31, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    During the start of the year, we were interviewing for someone to join our team and of course, with the job market being what it is, we were spoilt for choice with CVs. Plenty strong candidates with impressive experience; however, the person we went for had a relatively humble CV but she said something during her interview that stuck in our minds. You know that semi-trick question the panel. throws out at the end of the interview – “where do you see yourself in the next 2 years?”? Almost everyone else said something about having progressed up the career ladder but she was the only one who expressed a desire to have learned all there was to know about the current role and to have developed herself in it.

    She got the job and I’ve had no regrets because she’s always quick to use her initiative and readily applies the “Let me find out and get back to you” approach. If you want to grow, you need to appreciate that you’re not always going to get hands-on direction to do the work set before you and I quickly discovered that my own self in the early days, after moving into the energy industry. Even though my manager at the time was fully aware of my limited industry experience, he would still task me with attending project reviews or tender submission meetings, where people would be speaking in acronyms (hian! Wetin be FEED, SEEPs, MODU, EPIIC, ROVSV? TMS? BOP??) or discussing risers and umbilicals, line plans, fold ties as if you’ve crossed and entered rig with them before… Lord have mercy. How you wan ask make dem pause meeting, for a quick tutorial to help you understand their technical-language? You’ll just get your pen and notebook out to take notes speedily, then rush back to your desk so Google can give more understanding to the world of engineering. Google was doing the job with me, mehnnnn.

    Of course Google can’t teach you everything and there’s a place for more formal training and an assisted learning process which all employers must be ready to offer their staff to help them develop better honed skills … but there is still a lot of learning we’re responsible for picking up by ourselves, especially in this age where its all at your fingertips. Ask questions (I actually like working with people who like to ask questions) but don’t ask from point zero, as you’re probably capable of discovering a few things yourself. In the immortal words of Jerry Maguire, “help me help you”.

  12. Benbella

    October 31, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    This right here is an article worth reading, as it applies to most of our entitled generation, but it may not generate the comments traffic it deserves as it is not about a baseless subject like love, sex or weddings.

    To add to MSA’s point above, A few years ago, I started a job as a Change Management Lead for a Utility Company. Actually the Director in charge of my department had initially interviewed me for a Change Management Specialist. After the interview, he said he was impressed with how confidently I spoke, and how though I had no utilities industry experience, I said I was willing to learn, and eager to get my feet wet in that industry. My background is legal/ contracts management and I had worked in oil services and engineering but several elements of this job required transferable skills from my original field – like a good eye for detail, strong negotiation and review skills, diligent research skills necessary for keeping up with regulatory changes.

    The Utilities Industry was one of the most technical industries I ever worked in. At my first meeting, acronyms and industry speak were flying left right and center. It was a huge conference call with over 60 participants from different parts of the world, some with accents that made Lekki-British sound posh.

    Somebody then asked me a question – to give an update about a reporting my predecessor was supposed to have handled. The wrong answer would have been to say “Abeg I just started here na. Una too do.”

    I answered “I will have to get back to you regarding that. I will search your email on outlook and give you an update after the meeting”

    One thing I learned after my first few months:

    – In this life, knowledge is king. Research and attitude are its favorite wives. Self entitlement and ego are its wicked step sons. Laziness is its prodigal son – except that there is no fattened calf killed for it.

    – Research means checking online, and also asking questions. Listening when people talk, and paying attention not only to words, but methods, actions, processes, and sometimes what is unsaid. Nigerians, we talk too much. Black man/woman, take a moment and listen. You might learn something

    – Build your own personal database. I have industry material from every place I have worked. I create a personal library of professional interactions, and lessons learned, which I could tap into. Forget buying and keeping DVDs of series and movies that may not add value to life – do you keep books and journals? When was the last time you learnt something new?

    – We need an overhaul of how we teach in schools in Nigeria. We are used to being dictated notes by lecturers which we regurgitate to pass exams. Even when we buy electronics, we are not able to read simple instructions to install without calling an electrician. Na wetin?

    • Felinda

      November 1, 2016 at 8:17 am

      My kind of person.
      Smart and intelligent
      We can be friends for sure 🙂
      Tell them ohhh. Instead of wasting data minutes browsing fake life’s on Instagram , they could be researching. Some don’t care they want u to give them all the answers

      You go on sites like http://www.udemy.com or http://www.lynda.com every now and then for 24-48 some of the courses are offered for free. Eg if you are going to a job interview that calls for project management skills yet you don’t have it (maybe all u have is transferable skills ) why not research YouTube and all these sites to gather some knowledge so you talk to it at the interview like u know whatsapp. Though I’m field of Procurement and supply chain I don’t have black belt or Agile Scrum experience yet I mastered all the details over a weekend, went for the interview blew their minds and got the job. All the research I did was free on YouTube and udemy. Once u have a degree be confident in yourself you are smart enough and can do any job once you put your mind to it. So go for the interview don’t be intimidated, do your research and go talk to it. The first thing is to get the job, as to how to proof yourself when u are on the job, you’ll cross that bridge when you get there.

      I repeat Google is your friend use it. I love it. Internet was the best invention to mankind

    • Itua

      November 1, 2016 at 8:43 am

      *round of applause* This comment should be an addendum to the article!

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      November 2, 2016 at 12:24 am

      You crossed over into the utilities industry? One twale for you, I’m always mystified at how contracts in that sector are negotiated. JVs between the windfarm operators themselves are just… so complicated & this is before you take things a step down to service providers & then further down to customer contracts….

      Literally a network of agreements. Una dey try. ?

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