On working hard and being brilliant

Jennifer Sukis
Aug 9, 2017 · 2 min read

Over the past two years, while watching him lead and shape the IBM Watson Design Group, I’ve learned that Jonathan Atkins knows a thing or two about doing good work and leading with grace. As he departed us for new adventures today, he shared his personal philosophy on being happy and successful in your career.

Thank you Jonathan, you’re missed already. Amazon — you have a great leader headed your way! And now…

The Jonathan Philosophy

Excel at your current job. And make you sure you know what excelling at your job actually means. There’s a good chance it’s not quite what you think it is. Then make sure people know you excel at it. Build your personal brand. No excuses!

“Propose don’t oppose.” If you disagree with something, don’t just complain about it, bring forward ideas to fix it.

Be proactive. Don’t wait for an assignment before you start to work on something. “See a need, fill a need.”

Listen, and learn from the past. Understand why things are the way they are before you criticize or try to change something. Don’t let history repeat itself.

Anticipate your leader’s next move. And be ready ahead of time.

Practice your presentation skills. Can you sell an idea without relying on your job title to carry the weight? “Be bright, be brief, be gone.”

Be known as easy to work with. Do people want to work with you, or run from you?

Find a better way to do something. “Work smarter not harder.” When you see a better way, write it down, present it, sell it, make it the new standard.

Volunteer for stretch assignments. Demonstrate that you have abilities beyond your current role’s job description.

Demonstrate that you can do the job you want, not just the job you have. In a meritocracy, you do the work first, and then get the promotion. Not the other way around.

Always follow through. If you say you’ll do something, do it, and do it on time.

And most of all, be respectful, compassionate, and trustworthy. Remember that “everyone is the hero of their own story,” so no matter how right you think you are, and how wrong you think someone else is, keep in mind that you represent 1 of 7,500,000,000 points of view on the planet, and almost everyone one of those other people think they’re more right than you are. So when faced with a challenging situation, seek to understand the other person’s reasons, motivations, and values. Then frame your position in terms they’ll relate to. It’ll be much easier to reach a mutually beneficial outcome that way.

And on top of it, he’ll dress up for 1950's IBM Day like a BOSS.

Jennifer Sukis is a Watson AI Practices Design Principal at IBM based in Austin, TX. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Jennifer Sukis

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Design Principal for AI & Machine Learning at IBM. Professor of Advanced Design for AI at the University of Texas.