The Importance of Figuring It Out
What do you mean by figuring it out?
In the early days at Apple, there was a long stretch where it looked like the company wouldn’t make it. After they had created their initial series of products, they were getting increased competition from companies like IBM and Microsoft, who were both playing Apple’s game better than Apple itself.
When problems come up that we aren’t ready for, we have two options:
Option 1: Accept defeat and let the problem run its course
Option 2: Figure it out
Apple made the decision that they could no longer operate in the same space and fight with these competitors for customers;, they had to pivot. They knew a change needed to be made, and they found the one that would cement them as a tech giant for decades to come: they made everything simple.
Instead of fighting for high-end power and complicated capabilities, they wanted to make technology that could be used by everyone. This simple change made their consumer market much wider than their competitors’, landing them in a category all on their own. This change was made possible because Apple had people that were willing to figure things out.
The need to solve problems applies to all aspects of life, from personal life, to love life, and of course professional life. New challenges show their faces every day in the professional world, and most companies don’t have the luxury of ignoring them. Survival is dependent on figuring out what’s wrong, adapting, and putting new processes in place to guard against future issues. Every team needs someone who is willing and able to figure out anything that is thrown their way.
My name is Jackson Phillips, and I’m a Marketing Intern here at Awesome Inc. Throughout my three years in college, I’ve been fortunate enough to have done four internships; four more than many of my friends have had. This isn’t to sing my own praises… My friends are a lot more knowledgeable than I am in a myriad of things. But I do have one calling card that has helped me land and perform well in the internships that I’ve had: I know how to figure things out.
I have pride in the fact that many people throughout the years have relied on me to solve problems that I don’t immediately know the answers to. Time and time again, people at companies I’m working with find a problem nobody else knows how to solve, so they come to me and ask if I can take a look at it.
I’ve gone from not knowing what the term SEO means to having a full deep dive analysis and writeup on the SEO strategy of a company with suggestions for improvement, all within a week.
I’ve gone from never using Google Ads in my life to having a Google Ad Campaign that is tripling industry average metrics in under a month.
These weren’t just lucky breaks that I caught; I knew how to find the information that I needed and implement it. In other words, I knew how to figure it out.
Why do we need to figure it out?
What’s the point of having people who know how to figure things out anyway? If we have specialists in every sector our company works in, nothing can come up that they can’t handle, right?
These are certainly fair questions. If your company follows the same routine and never expands or pivots, it can feel like you have no need for problem-solvers on your team. With how quickly the business landscape and opportunities change from day to day, you will certainly be missing out if you only rely on what you’re currently doing. For example, Meta recently released a new social media platform called Threads. If the Social Media Manager at your company has only ever used older platforms and cannot figure out how to operate within a new one, then your company is losing out on a way to gain potential customers.
Now onto the more important question:, why should you want to be someone who can figure it out? Between figuring out a solution to a problem and giving up on that problem, one is certainly easier to do than the other. That being said, in the long term, being someone who can figure out small problems yourself can save you from larger, more consequential problems. Imagine you notice a slightly leaking pipe in your basement one day, but it’s not a huge deal so you decide to leave it. Several months later, you wake up to a totally flooded basement. Instead of taking an hour or two to fix the leaky pipe, you’re going to spend weeks dealing with something much bigger.
I’ve had both scenarios play out many times in my internships. As I mentioned earlier, I have had extremely quick turnarounds on projects where I have zero prior experience. I had a small company ask me to provide them with an analysis of their SEO, and being a bit over-confident in my abilities, I immediately agreed. To illustrate my overconfidence, before I could even think about starting an analysis, I had to figure out what SEO actually is. After a quick Google search I learned that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and this boost of knowledge gave me a surge of energy. That energy quickly turned to panic as I realized how little I actually knew about the topic.
After letting the panic subside, I was able to form a plan for actually getting this project off the ground. Over the next few days, I set routine that I cycled through until I had what I needed. My week consisted of the following in a loop:
- Google searching for tips and basics of SEO
- Watching Youtube videos on the topic
- Trial and error in testing platforms
- Talking to people that knew more than me about the topic
- Working late at night to understand the problem
At the end of the day, I was able to make something that the company was really happy about and gave them a lot of value. But for every success story, there are inevitably a handful of failures. I could tell you about the time when I accidentally sent a round of test emails with no copy when testing out a new platform, or the time I had to recreate an entire section of code from scratch because I accidentally deleted it, or the many times that I’ve had to immediately delete social media posts because I hit “Publish” before I was finished. You get the point.
This is why being able to solve problems is so important. You make yourself way more valuable as a worker if you can take the time to figure out a problem before it becomes major. You also greatly increase the value of your work itself. Being able to figure it out is an invaluable skill that will follow you through everything you do.
How to Figure it Out?
Finally the most important step, actually learning how to figure it out. The first step to improving at something is understanding where you’re having trouble and the best way to get answers. Think back to your time in school, like when you had trouble in math class. Your teacher is walking you through a difficult equation, and for the most part you understand, but around step six you get completely lost. Your first instinct might be to say “Hold on, how did you do that?”. But instead of thoroughly explaining the part that’s causing you trouble, your teacher just restarts and you gain nothing. This may seem trivial, but this is similar to how a lot of us ask questions in our everyday lives. Vague questions lead to vague answers, and vague answers don’t let you really understand the issue. Try asking more detailed questions, and if you have to, break the questions down into their most basic parts. This will help you get the most detailed understanding of all parts of the problem.
Tying into that last point, you don’t always have to ask those questions to a person. Everyone knows how useful the internet can be when trying to learn something. At the same time, I’m sure most people have had the experience of asking Google a question and not being able to find a good answer anywhere, which can be super frustrating. There are a couple of tips that can help you to avoid this scenario.
- Understand that the internet isn’t a person, and phrasing something as a question isn’t always the best way to get your answer. Instead, try typing in the most important keywords and looking for pages that relate to your topic.
- When trying to learn about complex topics, there might not be a result that directly covers what you want to learn. Figuring out the smaller parts of a complex issue and putting the pieces together yourself is an important step in problem-solving.
- Youtube is your best friend. There are videos teaching you absolutely everything on Youtube, from filing your taxes to changing your own oil. 99% of the problems that I’ve figured out at the different internships I’ve had have involved me spending at least a few minutes running through Youtube videos. Even if you don’t learn the whole process from a Youtube video, it can be incredibly helpful in figuring out where you might be making a mistake in the process.
Problems won’t ever stop popping up. Just as soon as you can solve the page full of problems that you have, a new list has already taken its place, so it’s important to be willing and equipped to solve those problems. Being able to figure it out will save you time, money, and headaches and will make you a more valuable asset in whatever you’re doing!