Episode #35: Say You’re New at This
for the first 90 days
Welcome back to Productive Conflict!
I hope you had a great summer and have started to look forward to the change that comes with the fall season.
On my end, big change! I pivoted out of academia and into the private sector. I’m two weeks into the new job and wanted to share with you a concept that’s helped me adapt to this mega-change with as much grace as possible.
If you are going through change yourself—whether it be a new job, a new relationship, a new house, or indeed a new way of living—you might find the idea described below useful.
The concept is the notion of a break-even point for value-consumed and value-produced. The idea comes from a book I’m reading on my subway commute written by Michael Watkins called The First 90 Days.
The idea behind the break-even point is that for the first 90 days of a new job we devour value—we consume knowledge, time, meetings, effort, and energy from our colleagues as we become enculturated to the ways of doing and being in the new job.
The idea is, if you are diligent, you will hit a break-even point at day 90 where you can then begin, slowly but surely, to add value to your team and your company.
Below is a sketch I did of this concept based off of one of the figures in the book:
However, for most of us, we struggle in the red zone.
It can be hard to consume everything and contribute nothing—the productive version of this is equally hard—being ok with not knowing— something I wrote about previously as negative capability. We want to show how skilled we are and how dependable we are in the critical moments of the first few weeks on the job.
But the reality is that we simply cannot contribute this early. My line manager helped my out recently by breaking down all the ways we learn about a new job into the following buckets:
Intellectual (what actually is the work we are tasked with?)
Physical (how do we actually perform that work?)
Political (who do we need to connect with, and in what ways, to do our work?)
Motivational (why is the work we do important to others and the bigger picture?)
Absorbing all the information from these buckets as you start a new transition can burden you. It can disorient you, make you question your skills, abilities, and decisions and fill you with a sense of insecurity.
Knowing that you simply cannot add-value at the early stage can release you from the (self!) expectation that you need to add value right now.
No one expects you to bring home the bacon on day one! Or even day ten! Welcome the conflict that comes with change and aim to start adding productive value once you’ve passed that all important break-even point.
The blue zone is just around the corner—listen, learn, and welcome the feeling of being new again.
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I am so glad you are back! What a great message.