The best job I ever had (before I started my own business) happened by accident. I fell into a ‘hole’ in a company restructure, where I had plenty of interesting work to do, but no official role or responsibilities. That job opened my eyes, because as long as it lasted, anybody could come to me at any time and say ‘Dave, can you help with this?’, and the answer was yes.
I had time to look around me to view the company’s needs, then to volunteer to do something about them. And I had time to think strategically about what the company would need six months out, then be prepared for that. I volunteered to serve wherever the company had a need and I had the skill, and in doing so my standing increased rapidly.
It was an enormously successful, enjoyable role, and it only ended because ‘Yes’ was so powerful that I was quickly promoted. But I learned the lesson well. I carried ‘Yes’ into the rest of my career, and I have prospered because of it.
Now that part of ‘yes’ is true for everybody. But there is a second usage that is specific to us. As scientists, we are trained to critically examine any new idea. The scientific method literally works by disproving an hypothesis. A theory doesn’t become a law until a great many minds have failed to disprove it. So we are naturally inclined, when presented a new idea, to hold it up to the light and look for holes.
But the workplace doesn’t work that way. In the workplace, we need to cherish ideas, to blow carefully on the embers and grow the flame. So use your ‘Yes’. “Yes, that’s a great idea. Could we make it even better this way?” “Yes, let’s look at that idea more closely.” That simple act of positivity can make a huge difference to how we are perceived in the workplace, to be either a team worker or a speed bump.
This is my advice to any young scientist: put all of your positivity into your career. Be open to opportunities to lean and grow. Use your ears indiscriminately, but only open your mouth to start your sentence with ‘Yes’. You’ll be amazed at how far that can take you.