The B-Team

I work with some of the most talented and creative people that I have ever met. People, who I would argue, are the best designers, filmmakers, production guys, marketing minds and overall creatives out there today. They’re incredible. And we hustle to knock out a lot of stuff with little margin. Because of the incredible talent and drive these people have, sometimes we get too much on the table and have to call in the alternative plan. The backups. The other guys. The b-team.

That’s me. I’m not the first one to come to mind, but I try to always be there when needed. And that’s a big asset I believe I bring to the team. I can fill in any number of spots when the “a-team” gets overwhelmed, goes on vacation or just can’t get everything done.

Consequently, I’ve designed graphics, cards and signage. I’ve shot and edited videos and recorded voiceovers. I’ve written and proofread copy for marketing pieces. I’ve even lead worship on Christmas Eve service when our team was in a pinch. I’ve done a lot of different tasks in all different areas, and it brings value to our team. It makes my work days exciting and keeps me learning.

Now before I go any further, I don’t claim to be as great a designer as our dedicated designer or as crafty as our filmmaker or as knowledgeable as our marketing team. But I can hop in at any time to keep the ship afloat. I can create a piece that makes the cut. It might not be in the starting lineup, but it’s a solid contributor off the bench. Because of that, I help keep our team moving. I come in off the bench and score crucial points both with my teammates and also for myself as I build equity and gain trust from the team I’m supporting.

Being on the b-team might not get all of the glory, but it will benefit your team and help you gain tons of trust. There are three keys to being a solid, contributing member of the b-team, and they all begin with simply saying, “I can.”

  1. I can figure it out.

It’s easy to say, “I don’t know how to do that. Sorry, I can’t help.” But is that helpful to your teammate? Is that helpful to your organization? Is that going to help move YOU forward as a professional? Not a chance!

If you have the willingness to say, “I don’t know right now, but I can figure it out,” you’ll quickly find that you gain respect from your teammates and become a go-to player for people who simply need to get stuff done. Become a go-to player, become a crucial team member.

Along the way, you’ll pick up new skills and become someone who doesn’t have to just “figure it out” anymore, but add some new things to the previously dusty resume! That skill set translates to more, “I can” conversations!

  1. An “I can” skill set

Figure things out enough, and you’re well on your way to the b-team. You’ll learn things that aren’t in your job description but are helpful to the team and benefit your career. You’ll be adding things to your bag of tricks. Soon enough, you’ll have a skill set that makes you able to say, “I can” more often than not. And when you’re able to say, “I can,” you make yourself indispensable to those around you. You make yourself a person that can be trusted to get the job done when in a pinch. Find me a boss that doesn’t want someone like that on their team.

Once you have a couple of new skills, don’t think your learning is over. To always stay in the thick of it and keep yourself at the top of the helpful list, you’ll need to keep adding to that skill set. Always be willing to keep learning and to step back to, “I can figure that out.”

Sometimes, learning those new skills proves more difficult than expected. This is where the trust test of a b-teamer come into play. You have to be willing to stick it out.

  1. I can stay until it’s right.

Let’s remember that when you’re on the b-team, you’re learning. You’re not the best designer on the team. You’re not the best with budgets on the team. You’re not the person whose dedicated job is making films. You’re there to help when you’re called upon. You’re the b-team.

Because of that, you’re going to encounter some missteps. You’ll have to do more Googling than usual. You’ll create something that isn’t perfect on the first try. But if you want to be on the b-team. If you want to be the person trusted with important tasks when no one else is available, you have to be willing to stick it out.

You’re the new guy in the film world. You don’t spend your days designing. Your newly acquired skills will still need refining, and that’s ok. You just need to be prepared to stick with it. Keep learning on your own and be willing to take critique. Listen to the people around you, so that next time you don’t have to stay quite as late.

There’s only one thing you’re allowed to say, “I can’t,” about, and that’s quitting. You can’t quit. You can’t throw in the towel. Because the second you do, you’re back on the bench. You’re relegated to the practice squad. You’re no longer on the b-team. In fact, you may no longer be on the team.

3 Things to Do Today to Become a 1,000-Hour Pro

A lot of what you’ve read here is about the importance of being a 1,000-Hour Pro or inspiration to begin the journey of constantly learning and endeavoring to become a 1,000-Hour Pro. But what does that look like? How can you get started? Here are three things you can do today to get on your way:

  1. Make a list.

Before starting, make a list of anything that you have some interest in. Maybe create it in Evernote so you can keep adding to it whenever you hear something that piques your interest and you want to learn more. Having a list of things that interest you is a great way to always stay fresh. If you ever start to feel stale and like you need something new to reenergize you, take a look at your list and start learning.

  1. Start a new book

This seems like low-hanging fruit, but I think it’s worth saying. Start a book that’s not related to work, leadership or anything that you have to do. Start a book that just seems interesting. And while you might only be able to start it today, commit to finish it. We 1,000-Hour Pros have a tendency to start books, learn enough in the first couple chapters and then move on to a new book with a flashy cover. Commit to finish this one because without finishing, you’re just a 100-Hour Wannabe.

  1. Dive into a new project

I’m one of those people who get in over their head and then have to figure something out. It happened this past weekend as I was redoing our laundry room to build shelving. Nothing was coming out level, and I was all kinds of frustrated. But I learned what I needed to do, made it happen, and the laundry room is looking stellar, if I do say so myself. If you want to start to learn the nuances of what something actually takes to do, dive in. Maybe don’t do anything too high stakes as you learn because it is, after all, a learning experience. There’s a reason I started in the laundry room and not the living room. But dive into a new project ready to have some setbacks with the attitude of figuring those out. If you start something today that’s new, I can almost guarantee that you’ll learn something.

Those are just a few things that you can do to get a jumpstart on the 1,000-Hour Pro journey. What are some others that you think would help us as we become 1,000-Hour Pros together?

Be a sponge

In our house, my wife, Heather, and I have different definitions of “cleaning.” She’s the one who wants to pick up the dog’s toys, fold the blankets, make sure there’s nothing on the counter and then kick back and enjoy the rest of Saturday with a glass of wine. However, I’m on the flip-side of that coin. If we’re going to clean, we’re going to clean. That means bust out the bucket and rag, the Swiffer, the Lysol wipes and the duster. Because if we’re going to clean, we’re going to do what she calls, “Taylor clean,” and what I call “clean clean.”

So the other day, we were “clean cleaning,” and I was cleaning our kitchen counters. I dunked the sponge in a bucket of soapy water, and without thinking, slopped it down on the counter. Now of course, water went everywhere. At least it was clean water, I guess. But water’s everywhere and dripping on the floor and now my easy task of wiping down the counters is taking three times as long as I soak up all of the water I’ve just sloshed all over the kitchen counter and floor.

That sponge I was using can do a lot of things. It has two sides, so it can work to sop up water and wipe up spills on one side, and the other side has a scrubber that can get the grease off a pan and scrape dried spaghetti sauce off of the counter. But the best way to use that sponge is to dunk it in the water, wring it out and then start cleaning whatever needs cleaning.

The idea of “being a sponge” is something I’m sure almost all of you have heard. The phrase, “be a sponge” tells us to soak up all of the information we can in every experience. Sop up every last drop of culture when you visit a new city or country. Absorb every bit of wisdom you can when you get to hear an acclaimed leader speak. Take in every spec of knowledge from the various and sundry books that are piled up on your nightstand.

But if we learned nothing from a dripping-wet-kitchen story, we learned that sponges need wrung out. Sponges need to put that water somewhere to be effective. And the same goes for us. Learning isn’t just about taking in information. It’s about sharing that information, as well.

It’s not enough to have head knowledge. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s great to learn just to learn, but does it much matter if we can’t apply it to our lives? Does it much matter if what we learned doesn’t impact our relationships, inform our decisions or at the very least make us better critical thinkers and problem solvers? Taking what we’ve learned and applying it to our life is a vital step in the learning process. But I think we can go a layer deeper.

When we use that sponge, we don’t just wring it out to apply what we’ve soaked up to our own “life bucket.” We need to wring out that sponge for those around us, as well. The obvious is that sharing what we’ve learned gets those around us on the same page. It helps us speak a common language from a similar knowledge-base. But once again, there’s more to it than that.

I’ve found that learning something isn’t quite complete until we can share it in a relatable way. Once we’ve got enough understanding about something that we can share it in our own words, we’ve truly understood it. We realize how it impacts our lives, decisions and relationships, and we know the ins and outs well enough to accept that this nugget of learning can benefit those around us. That’s the moment that we’ve truly learned. That’s the moment when we most benefit ourselves, as well.

Have you ever tried to explain something to someone who just doesn’t get it? Or maybe it’s you who just doesn’t get it? Maybe you have some more learning to do. Maybe you have some more questions to ask. Actually, not maybe. Definitely. You definitely have some more learning to do and some more questions to ask.

Sharing what you’ve learned is a benchmark for you to look at and decide if you have a grasp on an idea or if you need to do a little more Googling.

This idea was made plain to me when I was in college. I had a German minor in college, and in one of my classes, a professor was explaining the levels to proficiency. When learning vocabulary, you are able to hear a word in German and identify what it means in English. This is the first step to learning the word. But to truly learn that word, you need to be able to come up with the German word from the English thoughts in your head. You need to have the word on-hand and ready to go at a moment’s notice to be truly proficient.

We should strive to be proficient in anything we endeavor to understand. We should have such a strong grasp on new ideas that we can pull them out and explain them in a new language for others to understand at a moment’s notice. That’s when we’ll have truly learned. That’s when we are proficient. That’s when we’re being a proper sponge.

Importance of the 1,000-Hour Pro Message

It begins way too early, in my opinion. Turn 16. Start to drive. Decide what you want to do for the next 50 years of your life. And no, you can’t change your mind. You have to decide before you go to college or else you’re wasting your money going to college, and you’re going to end up jobless with a useless degree.

That’s the painful message that many of us received in our high school days and the message many young people today are still hearing. But there’s a problem with that. The message is reductive. It’s cookie-cutter. It’s antiquated. It’s a 1975 message in the 21st Century.

Today’s workforce demands diverse, well-rounded learners who are able to do more than punch the clock while focusing only on their single task. In a global economy, each organization and individual is looking for an edge to get ahead. Companies use words like innovation, creativity, forward-thinking and cutting-edge to describe the way their organization is beating out the competition. But those are just words at the end of the day. How do you put those grandiose ideas into action? You hire people who can think outside the box and across the spectrum of what makes up a world-changing idea.

We look to hire people who come to the global table with new ideas that push the boundaries of what we already know, and the people well-suited to do that are the 1,000-Hour Pros. They’re the ones who can think about more than just one dimension of a project. They’re the ones that can round out a nugget of an idea into a full-fledged innovation. They’re the ones who know a little about a lot and can lead our teams into a modern, diverse, complex workplace.

There’s room for 10,000-hour experts, still. There’s room for those who focus on their exclusive set of skills. But more and more, they’re being passed up for the 1,000-Hour Pros who can execute in more than one specific area. The Pros have skills that can fill in anywhere on the team. They can go all the way from idea to product. They bring a new kind of worker to the table, giving an employer a fresh perspective in a single package that is much easier on the budget than a team of four, each with a single view and skill set.

The 1,000-Hour Pro is me. I’m the one that started to squirm when asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” The truthful answer was, “I have no idea. I hope not just one thing forever!” But I politely said that I was still weighing my options and trying to figure it out. A disappointed, “Good luck,” would follow, and I’d be on my way. I always felt like I had failed for some reason. I thought I had somehow missed the part of my life where I had an epiphany of what I wanted to do every single day until I turn 60.

But the more I learn about new things, the more I appreciate this as my path. I’m destined to be a 1,000-Hour Pro and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. I bring a lot of value to any team I’m on because I have a unique perspective and a Swiss Army Knife-like skill set. I’ve been working for a relatively short time and have already been able to recognize the benefits of being a Pro.

And I’m not alone. I believe there are a lot of people out there struggling to commit to one major in college, one area of work, or one focused task who need to be told that it’s ok. If that’s you, not only is it ok to not commit to one thing, but you’re going to find success. Dedicate yourself to being a forever student of whatever interests you, and you’re going to be an indispensable member of any team. You’re going to be the unique perspective. You’re going to be the problem-solver and the go-to player. You’re going to shake off the expectation to focus in and find your niche. Before you know it, you’ll be a Pro that your team can’t live without.