Maximizing the Opportunity When There is Little Direction Given
For as long as I’ve been working, I am used to structure and a clear direction. Though at times it felt predictable, redundant, and monotonous – it was always secure. There was comfort in knowing what I had to do, and what steps I had to take to achieve it. However, the nature of work at the squash startup was a lot more ambiguous, an adjustment compared to prior experiences. Sometimes, that ambiguity breeds the best learning opportunities.
Our objective for the summer was to create a Best Practices Guide to build a squash facility. Based on that research, we were asked to make a recommendation for individuals in Birmingham, AL on what strategy to implement for building courts. Research on this specific topic has never been done before, so there was a lot of room for creativity. On the first week, we were given broad project objectives, but it was difficult to gauge what the expectations were. To be quite frank, when you are given little to no direction, that is called life. There will be a time when you are given a project, and are just expected to perform. How you navigate through the complexities of the problem is what matters. Based on my experience, here are 3 ways I maximized my opportunity when given little direction:
1. Take Initiative to Ask for Feedback
About 3 weeks into the project, the two other interns and I had sent out a survey to multiple squash facilities and had a few quality calls. However, we were gaining little traction on the survey and we did not want to squander time. We needed more data to tell the story better. Instead of aimlessly wondering if I was making the right judgment calls, I took initiative and scheduled a call with our remote boss.
I ran him through what we had done so far, asked a few clarifying questions and then requested feedback. I explained everything from an angle of wanting to provide as much value as I could given the time constraints, so the check in call was to ensure we were covering our bases. He suggested a few changes to our survey, and offered to reach out to squash experts on our behalf. Essentially, the call provided clarity which ultimately pushed the project forward. When you feel like you’ve done all you could for yourself, it does not hurt to take initiative and ask for guidance. It shows that you care.
2. Ideate with a Group
Two heads are better than one could not be more true. Each of us brought something unique to the table, due to our varying experiences with squash. One intern hails from Cairo, Egypt – where squash players are a different breed. He had played for 16 years, and in 2013 won the U.S. Open. The other intern was from Greenwich, CT, the squash capital of America. It’s safe to say that their squash acumen was way ahead of mine, so I picked their brains throughout the process.
For example, when we received the e-mail in regards building courts in Alabama, it discussed the presence of the 2021 World Games which will take place in Alabama in 2021Birmingham. Since squash is not an Olympic sport, its place in the World Games was the closest thing to it. Building courts in Alabama in anticipation for the World Games would bring visibility and awareness of the sport in the south.
Since I had little knowledge of the World Games, or that squash was even featured there, this detail did not phase me when it was shared. However, when I shared with one of the interns, he acknowledged the positive implications and how we should highlight it in our final deliverable. Each of us looked at the same detail, but were able to make sense of it differently. From a business perspective, I may have not given this detail justice for the final deliverable. Being able to fulfill eachother’s knowledge gaps allowed us to be a stronger force together than we would have been individually.
3. Execute on something, there is always time to iterate
Rather than getting bogged down or overwhelmed with the complexities of the task, just do something. There is always room for iteration.
After the clarifying call with our remote boss, and after consulting with a close friend, I made a slide deck. When we presented it to our remote boss, he ended up loving the way it was presented, and was able to give tangible feedback.
The takeaway here is that you’ll be surprised how quickly one can execute on something, receive feedback, and then iterate upon it. Sometimes, making the first step is the hardest because of uncertainty, fear of failure, or not living up to expectations. However, just like on the squash court, you have to start from somewhere.
Whether or not you achieved all of the goals you set out to fulfill, there are many actionable steps one can take to feel like you really maximized the opportunity.