The Importance of Cross-Functional Learning

Oct 20, 2010
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

When you went through school, I’ll bet at some point in time you asked your teacher, “When am I EVER going to need to use this in real life?” And of course, there are some college courses that we have to take for required “elective credits” – like The Amazing World of Bubbles, Babylonian Mathematics, or Learning From YouTube. Looking at the titles of these classes, one might think they’re nuts, completely worthless, and offer no application to the real world. But upon closer examination, the classes provide some interesting information:

  • If you take the “Amazing World of Bubbles” class, you’ll probably glean some knowledge about harnessing energy. At least that’s what the course promises.
  • By studying “Babylonian Mathematics”, you’ll gain understanding of time-tested problem-solving methods, and what sourcer doesn’t get excited about problem-solving and puzzles?
  • In “Learning From YouTube”, students watch videos and discuss them in class. I suppose not every college course really has any relative application to the real world. Looks like this might be one of them.

OK, so these may be a stretch – a long stretch, at that. But the point here is this: sometimes, learning about something that you think won’t have any application to your job might actually provide some value to your function.

For example, how many people have thought about walking across the hall to spend some time with your “computer guy”? Whether this is your IT department or the intern your company hired to design the new website, there are some valuable things to learn from the person who deals with the technology in your office, like:

  • Basic HTML – this can help you jazz up your job postings or social networks without having to wait for someone else to do it for you.
  • New, interesting technology – every day there is a new tech product launched. Chances are, the technology guru in your office is on top of that world and occasionally there will be some products that might help you with your work.
  • Data mining – believe it or not, people in tech roles probably know how to scrape websites for data. What he/she is looking for and what you’re looking for are going to be different, but they can probably show you some interesting resources and techniques to help you dig for information.

Additionally, does anyone regularly spend time with the person in charge of their company’s marketing? There are some very applicable things to learn from someone who does marketing for a living:

  • Research – a BIG part of marketing is research. Marketers need to know whom they need to present products and services to, so a huge chunk of the marketing function is dedicated to upfront research.
  • Messaging – marketers need to be cognizant of putting forth appropriate messages and material once they’ve identified their target audience. Sound familiar?
  • *Bonus – the people in marketing probably have a great deal of information about the company in general. This is always handy when trying to convince a potential candidate to consider an interview; after all, what we’re selling is the company itself.

Some other types of people you might want to learn from (and  you might have to look outside of your company for these):

  • Psychologists – any time you can learn about human psyche and what motivates people it’s a good thing.
  • Writers/authors/editors – these people are wordsmiths and know how to create compelling content; they can also help with grammar and spelling.
  • Politicians – this might surprise you, but some politicians are actually good people, and they are excellent at keeping up with current information. More specifically, make friends with a political researcher.
  • Small business owners – these people know how to hustle. They are on their own clock, and the successful ones have found ways to squeeze as much productivity out of every hour as possible. Just be warned: be prepared when you speak with them – time is money!

While it is always good to learn from your peers, it is also wise not to overlook the importance of obtaining knowledge outside of one’s own industry. Areas in which we may just be scratching the surface can benefit from the knowledge and expertise of an individual whose entire focus is on that specific topic. It is usually flattering to an expert in this position for someone outside of their own specialty to acknowledge the need to learn and ask for guidance. If you sincerely want to learn more, I’ll bet you will find a willing mentor.

What are some other cross-functional professions from which we as sourcers can learn and become more proficient in our own jobs? Leave a comment below.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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