Paying dues–putting the time not just to understand but master a problem or situation–is a critical element of success in many circumstances.
Orienting, Observing, Doing Homework, and Paying Dues
I agree that “you need to pay your dues” can be code for “sit down and shut up” but it can also mean other things.
Many teams work on complex projects that can take a while to appreciate. Sometimes there are aspects of taking responsibility for a situation or a piece of a project that are not obvious until you have experienced them yourself.
Sometimes it’s a polite way for someone to tell you that you have not demonstrated the necessary competence or results to ask for more responsibility.
Chesterton’s Fence: Do Your Homework Before Proposing a Solution
There is also quotation G. K. Chesterton’s in “The Thing” (in the chapter entitled, “The Drift from Domesticity”) that’s worth remembering when you plan to recommend a change to a system:
“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”