“I’m not good with numbers.”
“Oh, I’m not great with technology.”
“I’m more of a word person, not a visual person.”
“Oh, I could never do that.

Do any of those statements sound familiar? Even if you’re thinking, “I would never say something like that,” you’ve likely encountered someone who was resistant to an idea or a proposed change, and who used such a statement as a justification for their discomfort.

People are capable of growing to fit the capacity of their environment. Like goldfish, we stay small in a small environment, yet are able to expand if given the space. Some of the constraints we experience are external, and out of our control. Yet far too often, we retreat into small spaces, just to complain about the limits of our environment.

Every time we say “I can’t do that,” we close ourselves in. What if, instead, we learned to say “I don’t know how to do that yet”? Suddenly, the walls around us disappear, and possibilities open up.

Here’s just one example of the growth that can occur though embracing a learning culture, and maintaining an expansive mindset.

The Conversation

Early this year, it became clear that the content team at Actionable needed some comprehensive data on how our websites were performing. I had many conversations with my manager and team about how it was frustrating to be publishing great content week after week, and yet not see it translate to traffic or traction on our KPIs. We had lots of ideas and guesses as to what was going on, but without a good look at the data, we had no way to test our hypotheses.

I have to admit, these conversations triggered some anxiety for me. When I was interviewing for the position, I convinced myself that Actionable would certainly want to hire someone with experience that I didn’t have—using analytics, SEO strategies, the mechanics of A/B testing, etc. I felt that I didn’t have the technical chops required for the position. This was an emotional reaction, and likely an exercise in perceived self-preservation. I wanted the job so badly that I knew I would be crushed if I didn’t get it, so I told myself a story about not being qualified. I retreated into a small space, and tried to tamp down my expansive thinking. I convinced myself so thoroughly, that when I got the good news call from Alyssa, I was in a state of excited disbelief, and too tongue-tied to say much except “that’s incredible news” (or some variation thereof, that call is a bit of a happy blur in my memory).

So the data side of things was a tender spot for me. But the team recognized that we needed some numbers to benchmark our progress and ensure we were on the right track, so I did my best to swallow those insecurities and dive in.

The Action

At first, I floundered a bit. I poked around online, reading articles about what numbers were the best indicators of site performance. I watched a few webinars on using Google Analytics. I talked things over with my team. My colleague Alysha started a Digital Marketing course, and she shared what she was learning. I built some ugly spreadsheets that didn’t really tell us much about our progress. We talked about them as a group.

After a few weeks, something clicked for me: the numbers were trying to tell me a story. It wasn’t just math or a spreadsheet (something I previously would have said “I’m not good at”), it was a narrative about how people were interacting with the work we do. Storytelling and narrative, unlike data, are firmly within my wheelhouse. I zoomed in on one valuable metric for the work that I do—pageviews on each blog post on each of our sites—and started to compile the data. I started to see patterns emerge. I added in some color-coding, to make the patterns even more apparent. I refined the process with the team, to further clarify the story the data was telling us, and how we could use it to start to test some of our hypotheses.

The Insight

Everyday, we continue to question and refine the way we use data to inform our activities. We formulate hypotheses, test them out, and debrief on the results. We still have a long way to go, but I’m confident that with the support of an incredible team, we’ll get there.

One of the best things about working at Actionable (ok, so it’s actually a long list of awesome stuff, but for the sake of this post, I’ll stick to one), is that everyone is open to trying new things, making it work on the fly, testing and refining, and learning something new every day. That’s the effect of a learning culture—I feel empowered to say “I don’t know how to do that yet. Bear with me and I’ll try to figure it out.” In the eight months I’ve been here, there has not been a single occasion where I was made to feel stupid for asking a question, or like a failure for not already knowing the answer. It’s an exhilarating environment—the nerves and uncertainty that come with not knowing something, followed by the excitement when I figure it out—keeps me energized and excited to take on new projects.

I’ve learned more things working at Actionable than can be reasonably listed in a blog post. Perhaps the most important lesson has been about learning itself (forgive me for getting a bit meta). Each day, I’m faced with a choice. I can say “I’m not good at that,” or “someone else can figure that out,” or I can say “I don’t know how to do that yet,” and then roll up my sleeves and get to learning.

I’d like to leave you with an anecdote. I used to work at a restaurant that kept goldfish as part of the decor. They lived in small glass bowls (and were often poked and prodded by sticky-fingered children). They had small, often short, lives. At the end of the season, a co-worker took the remaining fish home, and gave them free reign of his enormous aquarium. Months later, I attended a dinner party at his house—those tiny goldfish had all grown to be larger than a fist. Without the constraints of a small environment, and with proper care, they grew so quickly it was almost freakish.

I think of those goldfish often. I like to imagine that there are no limits to their growth—that if my co-worker had tossed them into the ocean, they would have adapted and grown to become kings of the sea. We are all capable of incredible growth. The first step is get out of the tiny glass bowls we create for ourselves.