11 May 2015 13:59 IST

Advice to new hires: Being Smart is not enough

We grow up in a society and an educational system where being ‘smart’ is regarded as the one critical factor for success. To be fair, ‘smart’ defined narrowly as marks scored in examinations that test rote memory and analytical ability. In the workplace, being smart certainly helps, but there are three more things that are equally important to build a successful career which any new hire would do well to embrace.

1. Agility: Our educational system and B-schools are great at turning out people who are analytically smart and are rewarded for coming up with the ‘right’ answer. The problem in the real workplace in the corporate world is that sometimes, there is no one ‘right’ answer.

Data is sometimes imperfect, sometimes the landscape changes and sometimes there simply may be a choice between the least bad decisions. In such situations, what you need is certainly the analytical ability to distil data and form choices, but also the agility to react fast, to deal with ambiguity and to not get paralysed by trying to find a perfect solution.

In the classroom, analytical elegance may be rewarded, but in the real world of business, ‘analysis paralysis’ may lead to lost business.

2. Empathy: Real world business is always conducted with, through and for real people, not numbers on a spreadsheet. No case study ever teaches you about how to deal with interpersonal dynamics, managing difficult stakeholders, or tough customers. That’s because no simulation can capture the emotions involved. Yes, business, like most of the rest of our lives, has emotions involved, and besides being smart, you should invest time and energy in building relationships and the empathy to understand customer needs, team-member motivations, how to navigate and resolve conflicts constructively and how to deal with impasses without burning bridges.

3. Humility: Business school is a great learning ground, but you never stop learning. Even after two decades of doing this, I have no shame in saying there is a lot for me to learn, that I learn something new every day and that I do go wrong at times and learn a lot from my failures. Have the humility to accept that you do not know it all, and that you still have a lot to learn.

Don’t always automatically defend your point of view when faced with a different position, but try and learn from it. You may still stick to your point of view, but understanding how others think about issues will broaden your own thinking and help you learn and grow.