Why Being a Rookie is a Good Thing, According to Instagram COO Marne Levine

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And trust us - she would know.

marne-levine
Name a prestigious, impactful job and chances are Marne Levine has done it. From her seven-year stretch at the US Department of the Treasury to being invited to work alongside Harvard President Larry Summers or later, mapping out Barack Obama’s very first day at work as part of his presidential transition team, it’s the type of career path this accomplished American prefers to call “meandering with a sense of purpose”.

That sense of purpose has been the yardstick which each career jump has been measured against; including the move Marne made to Facebook as vice president of global public policy in 2010 and then, in 2014, into her current role as COO of Instagram, where the lack of professional parameters was “exciting” enough to lure out of her first true love of policy.

If there’s anyone who can attest to becoming something you might never imagine, it’s Marne. Here are three times this leading lady was proof that the rookie advantage is named so for a reason.

 

When she took previous learnings and applied them to a new career context:

“[When I was at financial services company Revolution Money], I was in charge of this new product that we were launching. The new product was peer-to-peer payments and I was really excited about the ability, what that would mean for people in terms of sending money overseas and just the ease it would bring people in their daily life. I remember coming into the office one day and our CEO, Jason Hogg, said, “Today, we’re going to do user testing,” but we were going to do it as employees. So we sat down and we basically took the product we were about to document and everybody started going through the different flows and entering in what was going on. I had never been through an experience like that.

I had never been a product manager before; this was my first time. And then at the end of the day they said, “Okay Marne, so figure out how we prioritise these glitches and which things are launch blockers and what to do.” I was like, “What?” They said, “These are all the bugs that we have,” and it was something like more than 1000 bugs and I just looked at it and I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’ There were so many things that I encountered in that role that I had never done before.

I talked to my boss about it at the time – he had been at AOL [and] had been around tech companies – so he explained these are all the problems [and] you need to make sure we group them and that we prioritise which ones are the most important ones we need to address before we launch this product. It’s interesting: doing that wasn’t unlike some things I had done, even in government. You look at a bunch of things in front of you and you need to prioritise which is the most important and you need to work with people in cross-functional areas and move something forward, it’s just applying it in a different context.”

 

When she made this point about being a rookie during a rousing commencement speech:

“I gave a commencement address at my alma mater [Harvard Business School] and I talked about the ‘rookie advantage’. Often times, you go into situations and you haven’t had direct experience there, and that can actually be a strength, not a weakness, because you come in with fresh eyes: you’re unburdened by the conventional wisdom, by the way things have always been done, you can ask the right questions, you can point out things that might seem obvious but have been overlooked by others who have seen it for a long time. The issue there is making sure that people feel empowered to actually speak up. Because often times what the person thinks is, ‘Oh, there are a lot of really smart people in the room, they must’ve gotten together and they must have covered this.’ The truth is that they might not have, so speak up and point things out.”

 

When she explained why the ‘rookie attitude’ was something to maintain, not let go of:

The key in careers, I think, is how do you maintain that rookie feel when you continue to be in the job? Asking those hard questions, making ‘why’ your favourite question, [taking] a step back and looking at it with fresh eyes – that can be a challenge. You can get that new fresh perspective by changing industries and putting yourself in new situations again, but you also get it by really pushing yourself to look at it differently and not being pushed into the same way that it’s always been done.

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