Best Advice: Figure It Out

LinkedIn’s latest question posed to its Influencers made me think. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? As usual, there’s some great posts worth reading, from Richard Branson’s Protect the Downside to Barry Salzberg’s Lock Your Kryptonite in a Lead Box. You can browse them all here.

LinkedIn Influencer or not, here’s my advice: figure it out. From the time I was young, I had a natural curiosity about me. I loved to understand how things work (and still do), how people accomplish things and how people come up with ideas. I didn’t just want the answer or the solution; I needed to understand how it was achieved. Maybe that innate curiosity coupled with the time and place I grew up instilled a love of figuring things out. As I’ve gone through life, I’ve discovered that this is not a common skill.

sun breaking through the trees
That ‘aha moment’ when you figure something out is an amazing feeling.

Sure, it would be great to live in a world where everything was perfectly spelled out (or upon further thought, probably not), where everything came with a set of easy-to-follow instructions that could be completed in no time at all. But life and business is rarely like that. Whether you’re an accomplished professional or fresh-out-of-college grad, there’s benefits to figuring things out, such as: 

  • You’re seen as proactive. Figuring things out generally leads to viewing situations proactively. What information might be valuable in the meeting tomorrow? What example can I cite on my conference call this afternoon? What other products or solutions may my client be interested in? Yes, it’s a little extra work, but being prepared will make you shine.
  • Your work ethic becomes famous. Hard workers are valued the world over, but especially in America. From the time our ancestors arrived, Americans have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made a life for themselves. A strong work ethic will still take you places.
  • People value you. When you make the extra effort to figure things out, you usually end up with information — which is valuable. You’ll soon become known as the go-to person when someone has a question or is stuck. Colleagues, business partners, bosses and clients will appreciate your usefulness and recommend you for future opportunities. Word-of-mouth is a powerful thing.
  • The company values you more. $$$ We need people of all levels and abilities, but critical thinkers and problem solvers are generally viewed as more valuable, therefore drawing more compensation. Be a person who figures things out and see your value rise.

So who passed on this valuable advice to me? Quite a few people actually, through words and deeds. My parents are big believers in kids figuring things out for themselves (unless death or destruction is imminent), so they got me started in the right direction. I was fortunate to work closely with two amazing people in my first job out of college, who baptized me in the Corporate America environment. They were always willing to answer questions or explain things, but they never sat behind me and gave me step-by-step instructions. For that, I’m grateful. Finally, I worked for (and survived a crazy culture with) a lady for 6 action-packed years, who I learned so much from. But she too gave me space to figure things out and run with them, which I will always be thankful for. 

Curiosity will not cause us to die — only lack of it will. Never to want to see the other side of the hill or that improbable country where living is an idyll (although a probable hell) would kill us all. Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.  -Curiosity, by Alastair Reid

I’ve tried to pass this same advice onto my employees, colleagues and even clients. Trust yourself: you do know how to do this. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have or show you how to do something. But there’s something about figuring things out for yourself, too. That sense of accomplishment is an amazing feeling.

(p.s. I’m NOT saying to never ask questions or request help. We all need help sometimes, whether it’s collaborating on a specific project or because our job or business becomes too overwhelming. There’s a lot of value in outsourcing tasks that fall outside of our sweet spot, so that we can focus on what we do best.) 

Speak Up

Do you prefer step-by-step instructions over figuring things out?

Is there a situation where figuring things out is actually detrimental?

Is your preference for figuring things out or being given specific, detailed instructions a generational thing?

Let’s discuss.

Still figuring out life,

I’ve figured this out. Let’s get social!
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Published by Jaime Shine

I love to write. While most kids were playing with blocks or dolls, I was publishing magazines and newspapers – feature articles, ads, sports box scores, the whole nine yards. From promotions director to advertising roles to branding projects, I’ve always been interested in all forms of marketing. That interest blossomed into a career path and led me to open my own business, which has always been a dream of mine. And I’d love to work my magic for you. Check out my company's services, discover more about me or chime in on my blog, covering a variety of topics, at

4 thoughts on “Best Advice: Figure It Out

  1. Jaime,
    Great article and great advice. When I was very young (and easily influenced) one of my greatest mentors was my boss at a fast food restaurant where I worked through high school. He always told me to try to think of ‘what’s going to happen next.’ What is the next step after I do what I’m doing now? When I complete the task I am working what will my next task be?
    I have tried to keep that advice in mind even now as I conduct business. When I complete that presentation, I try to think of what my client is going to do next, what is he going to say, what will the expression on his face be, etc. etc.? I try to visualize the various reactions and then I formulate appropriate responses. I should prepare to go for the close or to answer an objection, I try to prepare for several distinct scenarios.
    Those words of advice have kept me ahead of the game most of the time and have helped me immensely. So, ‘What’s going to happen next’ after I post this response? I wonder.


    1. Richard,

      That is great advice! It’s so beneficial to be prepared for nearly any situation, and this is a great way to put yourself in position. Thanks for reading and taking the time to share your advice. We’d all do well to follow it!


  2. Hello Jaime, Such a thought provoking article! I am one who like to figure things out for myself. Problem-solving is something I love to do. Math was my best subject, and I spent the majority of my work life as a computer programmer (applications developer). I have also had some experience teaching young children and project-leading. So, anyway, bottom line … here’s my take:
    – Figuring things out for yourself is usually the best way, but not always … if you really have no interest in something, then it’s fine or even preferable to let someone else take care of it.
    – When you do figure something out for yourself, you end up with a greater understanding than if someone shows you how.
    – Often what works best is … a mentor gets you started and is just there for you if you truly get stuck. The ability to teach in this manner is a true art.
    – Sadly, I’ve encountered people in my work life who refuse to help at all (even one guy who put yellow crime scene tape blocking his cubilcle!) – this is unconscionable conduct!


    1. Carol,

      I look forward to your comments, because they always add so much to our posts! I didn’t realize you were a programmer. I have so much respect for people in this profession, including my sister-in-law. You make the digital world go round! I appreciate your insight and thoughtful take on when figuring it out is a good fit and times that it’s not. It is a shame that some people never want to help other people. Just think if everyone were that way — nothing would get accomplished. 🙂


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