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Internships and other work experiences
Internships and other work experiences

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2.1 Showing initiative

Showing initiative means taking the lead in something or taking the first step. During an internship or work experience that could mean spotting something that needs to be done and offering to do it, or sharing your ideas about potential improvements to systems or processes.

Here are two reasons why you might feel uncomfortable about showing your initiative, along with some possible solutions:

1. I don’t have ideas

Lots of people think they don’t have ideas but they are usually wrong. Mind Tools (no date) suggests some unusual approaches to generating new ideas, including:

  • Breaking old thinking patterns – for example, try exploring the exact opposite of what you want to achieve. This might help you to come up with innovative ways to tackle the real issue. For example, Mind Tools gives the example of redesigning a website. By trying to make the design boring, frustrating and forgettable, you might generate some ideas about how to do the opposite.
  • Making new creative connections – try picking a word at random and looking for novel associations between that word and your problem. You could also do this with images or objects. Mind Tools gives an example of trying to reduce sick leave across a company. The random word is ‘ball’, which might trigger ideas about organising a monthly football game to raise morale and encourage people to be healthy, etc.

Activity 2 Making creative connections

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes for this activity

Kenzo has noticed a problem in his workplace. It has a decent sized room available for gathering to have lunch together, but no one uses it. He realises that this is a missed opportunity for networking, sharing ideas and generally building stronger relationships with colleagues.

He opens a book and randomly hits on the word ‘garden’.

How could he apply that word to solving his problem? Make a note of your ideas in the box below.

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One example might be to bring some house plants in to make the room a more attractive place to sit. Or perhaps the room could be given pictures or a colour scheme that evokes a more natural environment. The team could even plan a regular picnic lunch when the weather is good.

What ideas did you come up with? Were you surprised that a random word could spark a different way of thinking? As suggested by Mind Tools, this could also be done with an image or an object.

If you struggled with this activity, try it again with a friend or colleague. Perhaps a shared brainstorming session will make it easier for you to come up with ideas.

2. I have lots of ideas but I’m not confident about sharing them

The other common issue with feeling uncomfortable about showing initiative is a lack of confidence. This is especially common if the forum for sharing ideas is, for example, a formal meeting. This can be very daunting at first but it gets easier the more you do it.

To help you feel more confident when entering these types of settings, make sure you prepare for the meeting in advance. Think about what you want to say or ask about. You could even run your ideas past a colleague or ask them about the format of these meetings so that you have a feel for when it would be appropriate to contribute.

It’s also worth remembering that when you are the new person in the room, particularly if you are perceived as an inexperienced intern (rightly or wrongly), sharing your ideas is a reasonably low risk strategy. Colleagues will appreciate your enthusiasm but forgive you if you haven’t yet understood all the facts. You should see this as an opportunity to surprise and impress them!

In the next section, you’ll start to look in more detail at ways to talk to colleagues, building relationships and your reputation.