During the first two weeks in my new job, something that has amazed me is just how many more information resources I have access to compared to my old firm. Given that I’ve moved to a larger firm I probably should have expected this, but it somehow still took me by surprise. I don’t mean to knock my old library, or imply that we were completely understocked – we did have all the usual resources you’d expect in a mid-sized law firm, and although our budget was probably pretty low for the corporate sector, I’m willing to bet it was higher than the budgets my public sector colleagues manage on. I must say though, it is nice suddenly to have access to all the shiny, expensive databases that were so tantalisingly out of reach before!
It’s got me thinking though – has having to make do with fewer resources made me a better researcher? To give an example, a regular request in both my old and new jobs was for a report on a specific company, usually someone we were pitching for business from. In my old job, I’d produce a 3-6 page document on the company’s background, key personnel and their biographies, any recent news, trends for the sector, and financial data. Or that was the idea anyway – unless the company in question was very large and well known, most of that information was locked away in paid for databases which we didn’t have access to, so I’d have to cobble together what I could from the free web.
In my new job, when I get that sort of request I’ve got almost an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sources to choose from. In a way, this almost makes it harder – it’s much easier to be certain that you’ve found everything you can within your budget when you’ve only got a finite amount of places to look for information! I find that the most time consuming aspect of producing these reports now is choosing what not to include – I want the report to be comprehensive, but I don’t want to overwhelm the client with information, so I spent more of my time filtering through what I’ve found.
The issue of selection and exhausting your resources aside, it is much easier to produce this kind of report when all the information I need is at my fingertips. Perhaps this is slightly perverse of me though, but I wonder if this will make me a bit lazy. I’d got used to having to think my way creatively around a subject when I had limited resources to hand: to think about what kind of information might be useful, why it would have been produced and therefore where I might find it. I’ll still need to do that if I’ve been asked to research a particularly obscure company, of course, but for the most part the information I need will be pretty readily available. Will that eventually cause me to forget how to think around corners when I do have to research something more difficult and obscure?
To extrapolate these musings to a broader context – does having fewer resources in general make you better at your job? If you have less access to all the things that make your job easier, it must force you to be more creative with what you do have. I’m sure most people reading this have been asked to do ever more with ever less over the last few years, as indeed I did before moving jobs. Has anyone else found that the lack of resources improved their lateral thinking?