I had the chance to take a little R&R from my assignment in Tucson, AZ, so I went out on the Pima Canyon Trail. Some things got me musing. Suppose you are climbing a difficult part of the trail, and another hiker appears above you coming down. Probably not what you were hoping for, at that moment. Who has the right-of-way? It might not matter on a broad flat trail, but here, it might matter a lot.

While you think about this, let’s consider such situations in your career. As an example, consider someone moving from NASA to SpaceX (or vice versa.) It might make for a bad launch to your new job to keep hearing: “We don’t do it that way here at SpaceX.”

In other words, it is better to learn the rules before you inadvertently break them. Hopefully, you know the basic rules of the workplace, but if you are new on a job, or perhaps working with a new client, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Consider inviting a co-worker (or maybe two) out for a simple lunch. Ask them: “What are some of the customs here? Does the group have any unique ways of doing things that I ought to be aware of?”

You will likely make fewer rookie mistakes, and it will probably earn you the respect of those you meet with. People like to talk about new events. On your first day, that is you. You have just given them something positive to talk about, and the people who went with you might be elevated just a bit.

Back to Pima Canyon. As it happens, I was recording this while hiking up-slope. Two hikers came down and moved briskly by me, causing me to have to step aside. They obviously didn’t know the rule* that the hiker going uphill has the right-of-way.

They may not have cared that I knew immediately that they were not experienced hikers, but would the same be true at work? A small error may seem trivial, but imagine a neighbor dropping in on your Super-bowl party and asking: “What inning is it?” No matter what else they may say or do in the future, it will be hard to take seriously anything they ever say about American Sports. Don’t let your lack of knowledge of a new organization make you look that foolish.

Next Up: Learning Uphill, Teaching Downhill


*The rule comes from the fact that the uphill hiker has a smaller field of vision, filled mostly with the side of the mountain, whereas the downhill hiker sees a larger vista before him/her, enabling them to manage the situation better.