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,

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Curiosity // by Alastair Reid


by Alastair Reid

Curiosity may have killed the cat; more likely

the cat was just unlucky, or else curious

to see what death was like, having no cause

to go on licking paws, or fathering

litter on litter of kittens, predictably.

Face It.

FACE IT. 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.

Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible,

are changeable, marry too many wives,

desert their children, chill all dinner tables

with tales of their nine lives.

Well, they are lucky.

Well, they are lucky.

Let them be

nine-lived and contradictory,

curious enough to change, prepared to pay

the cat price, which is to die

and die again and again,

each time with no less pain.

A cat minority of one

is all that can be counted on

to tell the truth. And what cats have to tell

on each return from hell

is this: that dying is what the living do,

that dying is what the loving do,

and that dead dogs are those who do not know

that dying is what, to live, each has to do.


I’m not typically into poetry — writing it or reading it. But this poem caught my eye in high school and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s graced a wall (printed out on tie-dyed paper) at various stops along the way and always has a prominent place in my mind.  

What do you think?

What does this poem say to you?

Chime in with your thoughts!


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