Reinventing the Wheel

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, August, 2016

At his three-month performance review, Ryan received confusing feedback. His supervisor praised his organization skills, and his precision when processing invoices for the accounts payable department. He also said that Ryan needed to stop reinventing the wheel. Ryan had no idea what this feedback meant, and was afraid to ask for clarification.

“What wheel is my boss talking about?” he asked during our coaching session.

I explained that his supervisor used an idiom that means spending a significant amount of time creating what already exists, or making unnecessary or redundant preparations.

Initially this explanation didn’t mean anything to Ryan. After discussing how he performed the primary tasks of his job, the meaning became clear. When Ryan encountered an unusual billing situation, he would spend considerable time devising a system to verify the payment amount. He was reinventing the wheel because a procedure already existed for processing payments. The supervisor wanted Ryan to ask questions so that he would learn to use the established system.

Another example of reinventing the wheel is trying to perfect details that are not relevant to an assignment. Graphic designer Carl took it upon himself to redesign internal forms while neglecting to finish a critical Web update. Job seekers reinvent the wheel when they write resumes from scratch instead of reviewing sample for ideas about what to emphasize.

Reinventing the wheel is not the same as making a genuine improvement or innovation. Employers appreciate ideas for increasing productivity, as long as they align with the company’s goals and priorities. Before proposing a change, think about  whether there is a need. What is the benefit to you and/or others in the organization? Will it save time or money? Can you identify specific benefits, or is the idea really centered around your personal preference?

Think also about what it will take to implement your idea. Will there be enough of a benefit to justify the time, money, or effort  required? For instance, would the company need to train staff members or purchase new equipment?

Finally, don’t work in a vacuum. Asking questions and sharing ideas with others early on can reveal important information that validates or discredits your ideas.

Copyright 2016, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching