No time? Listen to it instead
For most of my earlier life, I hated working in groups. My reasoning for this was because I had to fight for what I believed in continually. Over the years, though, I’ve realised that working in groups and as a lone wolf is important provided you know what you’re working for and are trying to achieve. Here’s a brief inquiry into the same and some of my experiences.
Most of my group assignments have always been me doing over 90% of the work. Yes, I’m that guy from every group project. There’s always that guy. I don’t blame other people for not pitching in, though.
I was always bad at delegation because I was a perfectionist, which meant I couldn’t handle it when other people didn’t do something how I would’ve done it.
The problem is you can’t learn and be good at everything. This is one lesson that I’ve taken a long time to learn.
When I worked in a professional setting, I understood why teams are necessary and why lone wolves don’t usually thrive in workplaces until they’re ready to collaborate unless they are geniuses.
So, I decided to throw out the notion that you needed to be either/or. Instead, I started to gauge what was required of me from the situation and problem at hand.
That’s when I realised it was (like most things) a false dichotomy. People talked about it as if it were two different ways, but that was wrong. The thing is, you can be a lone wolf and a part of a group and shift between them when required.
The Upsides & Downsides
The upside to working in a group is that you get to test your ideas before you make mistakes. Often, someone who carries more expertise in an area can instantly point out how stupid you’re being by fighting for something you have no clue about. You can always get the “I tried that once and failed” advice which often gives insight into what not to do. That always comes in handy.
The downside to working in a group is the obsession with consensus. Groups do not like pissing anyone off. That sucks for the ideas themselves because now, you’re stuck with substandard ideas that everyone agrees on. When five people meet in the middle, it’s not on the same table. You’re continually dumbing a good idea down, and that is my only quirk with groups.
Now, the downside of working alone is also a direct extension of the previous idea. Often, you’re too confident about an opinion, especially when you’re passionate about it. Usually, the idea is shitty. If only you had someone to discuss with it, but you’re busy hacking away at things on your own, right? That’s why working alone can often teach you more ways how something doesn’t work. That is an upside in hindsight, but it gets frustrating when it’s happening.
The upside to working alone is the control and freedom that comes with it. You go hard, and you go long. You know you believe in the idea, whatever it may be, you know how you want to do it, and you push further. Eventually, you learn more through that process and come out somewhat of an expert in most areas you touched while working on it, even if you failed.
So, which path to choose?
Ask Yourself: Who Does This Matter To First?
The question to always ask if what are you doing? Are you doing something that matters to you first and to others later, or is it vice versa?
A good rule of thumb I follow now is, if it matters to me first, I have to shut myself in a cubicle or apartment and work at it as my life depended on it. I have to fight for my ideas, and I have to make sure I get a bit more control over the execution, even if I’m in a workplace.
If it’s the other way round, that is, it matters to me later and to the group first (such as a group assignment in college or a podcast or a project that is not directly related to my work), I learn to collaborate and play well with the group.
So, if it’s an idea where I legitimately don’t care what anyone else thinks about it, I will go and execute it and work on it for days and fail and try again and maybe succeed. With that freedom comes accountability too. You fail, irrespective of who you are working for, you better have an answer.
If it’s something that the group cares about more than I do (I still have to care about it to work), I become a smooth cog spinning as well as I can, making sure I’m a good part of the system.
That’s it, that’s the nudge. I always ask myself: what am I doing, and who does this matter to more? Then, I choose accordingly.
You don’t have to be either/or in most things. It’s almost always a spectrum.
Quick Sidebar: Delegation
It’s a good idea to know when you’re not the most important person in the room. The answer is: almost always unless it’s your room. The key to collaboration is the simple delegation rule (provided you’re in the position to delegate). The rule goes that if you delegate, you have to be okay with them doing 70% of a good job. Anything above is a bonus.
When it comes to work, most people assume they are either someone who plays well in a group or someone who works independently. In my opinion, that’s a false dichotomy. I’ve learned to ask myself a simple question that aligns my work style for something: what am I doing, and to whom does it matter more? If it matters more to me, I choose the lone wolf style and vice versa.
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