One of my three words for the year is “Stretch”. (The other two are “Less”, and “Collaborate”, but that’s a post for another time.)

Stretching is always a good thing. Animals have it right. They stretch continuously – especially when they get up from a nap, or when they are looking for affection. They stretch because it feels good.

Have you ever been sitting at your desk for a few hours, totally engrossed in what you’re doing, then suddenly you try to move? Yep – we’ve all been there. You’re stiff, sore, maybe your foot is asleep. The only solution is to streeetttccchh. Ahh, that’s better. Stretching oxygenates our bodies, releases tension, and if we do enough of it, it makes us more flexible.

I’ve made a commitment this year to stretch more – and that doesn’t mean just by doing more yoga, starting to run (which is a real stretch for me!), or getting away from my desk more often. It’s also about stretching beyond the current lines I’ve drawn around my experiences.

When was the last time you…did some type of work that you haven’t done in ages? Back in the day, I had my hands dug deeply into web site coding. In the mid-late 1990’s, when the web was just getting going, I was HTML and JavaScripting my way through Notepad and Dreamweaver, building sites by the dozen. I learned it all myself – from books and the Web and through the help and support of many brilliant teachers and mentors.

Time went on, and I moved into managing web projects, instead of coding them. I had teams of developers now, who knew far more than me about this stuff (and enjoyed it a lot more too). I focused on what I was good at – working with clients and creating content. I left the techie stuff to the techies. I was grateful that I had learned a thing or two about how web sites worked from a technical perspective – it made me much easier to work with, because I knew what was possible and had a sense of how my wild and crazy ideas could affect the scope of a development project.

As the years went by, the technologies evolved, and, because I was focused on other areas, the new technologies of the web went beyond my capabilities. I was okay with that, though, because I still understood the basics, even if I wasn’t fluent in the new languages of the Web. But, there’s always a part of me that wishes I’d kept up with it.

Skills revisited. Last night, I was working on small web site that required a bit of simple JavaScript in order to work the way I wanted. It had been YEARS since I’d done any kind of scripting like that. Of course, with my skills being so out of date, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to come up with the code I needed myself. I did what any self respecting hack would do, and went to Google to try and figure out how to do it. I was able to get about 80% of the way there, which impressed me. I did have to call in reinforcements to help me nail it down (thanks, Michele!), but once she pointed me in the right direction, I was off to the races.

What’s a skill that you have that you haven’t used in a long, long time? Are you a manager now? How many years has it been since you’ve been “in the trenches”? What would happen if you dove back in, even just for a while?

Once we get into the position where we are managing others, it’s easy to forget what it was like to be doing their job. I work with web designers, developers, videographers and video editors all the time. I manage the teams, guide them, give direction. I feel as if I do it fairly well – at least that’s what I hear from my teams. I think part of my secret, is that I still make a point to play around with simple code, pick up a camera, and edit projects once in a while.

I don’t think I’d be as good a manager as I am if I didn’t exercise my old skills once in a while. Now, our web developers and designers are far more skilled at what they do than I am. I’m a pretty good editor, a pretty good videographer – but I put ultimate trust in my guys, who do it day in and day out. They are better at it than I am – that’s why I pay them.

But if I don’t sit in the trenches once in a while and crack open Final Cut or Photoshop, then I’m doing myself and them a disservice. Putting together that small, simple piece of functionality in that web site last night reminded me of a few things. First, it takes time to make sure it’s right – time that I’m sometimes guilty of not allowing my developers. Second, it’s okay to ask others for help when you need it – one’s pride often gets in the way of getting the job done. Third, coding takes infinite amounts of patience (patience that I don’t have).

Stretch beyond your walls. Stretching is about going beyond those habits we get into. It’s about reaching outside your comfort zone once in a while. It’s about revisiting some old skills, so you can not only appreciate where you’ve come from but so you can appreciate the people who continue to do those things day in and day out. Take some time to get in the trenches, so you can truly understand what your team is dealing with – what are their challenges? How are you making their challenges more difficult? How can you make it easier for them to do their jobs? It will make you a better boss, I guarantee.

How are you going to stretch yourself today?

[photo credit: leshoward on Flickr]

4 Responses

  1. Great post, miss.

    I think it's a natural flaw for us humans to get “lazy”, for want of a better word. Google has made us less inquisitive (or at least, less attention paid to inquisitiveness) and crowdsourcing has seen us forget the art of research.

    We need to keep stretching, both physically and creatively, if we want to reach our full potential. Some do this well, others not so much. Up to us which camp we fall in. 🙂

  2. Stretching is the complement of strength training, both literally and in your lovely metaphor here. If you've done much yoga, you know there's a limit to how well you can stretch without also building core strength. And I think we've all seen the guy at the gym with massive pecs … and arms he can't fully straighten.

    We specialize in part to build our “core strength” — that central heart of “what I do best.” And without that, we can never become more than human Swiss army knives, good at much and great at nothing.

    But without maintaining an expansive curiosity and making time to dabble and broaden your view, you lose perspective. You lose “why.”

    Excellent post, as usual, ma'am. 🙂

  3. Love this! Also love stretching where we least expect it – right where we are strong. All too often we think we need to stretch on the stuff we suck at which drains us more. Instead, stretch on the stuff we're good at and want to do more.

    Which reminds me, time for the treadmill.

  4. good points…stretching backward doesn't seem to be as much a problem for me as stretching forward – it's that new stuff that is a bit frightening.

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