Is Experience Overrated?

We live in a world today that is drastically changing. Forbes and Inc have written so much about CEO’s under 30 who have started and established successful companies. Yet, we still sit in meetings where “experience” is brought into the question. A cursory glance on Linkedin shows that most job positions demand experience when it comes to managerial positions. 

I hear about the value of experience and how the quality of decisions increases with experience. To be honest, I have learnt so much from these experienced leaders - more because they offer a different perspective which would have otherwise taken me the length of their careers to have. There is certain truth to the value of experience. However, in many a case experience, gut or intuition does lead to a wrong decision. So how do we, young leaders, protect ourselves from this situation?

Let us spend some time understanding the concept of experience and try to break it down so we can use that information to accelerate the way we think. Obviously, the goal is to optimize the process of gaining “experience”. 

Malcolm Gladwell mentioned in his rule that it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become good in any field. Clearly, this refers to the “experience” gained out of the 10,000 hours spent on indulging in  certain activity. However a recent study has shown this not to be true. You can read about this here

Being an analytics professional, I tend to have the view that our brain works through algorithms as well. Imagine our brain being a computer that stores the outcome of a certain action. As the input variables change, the outcome could either be success or failure. Over time, our brain calibrates the “right” set of inputs to deliver a successful output.

Biologically this makes sense. Human learning at its core is nothing but associative. We associate certain actions with successful results and this “experience” allows us to reapply this to situations and gain success. 

Decision

Even the study at princeton proves the same. 

  • In games, practice made for a 26% difference
  • In music, it was a 21% difference
  • In sports, an 18% difference
  • In education, a 4% difference
  • In professions, just a 1% difference

These results beget the question - Why the fall for professions?

Let's take a step back and revisit our “brain works through algorithms” theory. Any person who has worked in analytics knows that the prediction is only as good as the quality of data. We live in a world that is constantly being disrupted by new ideas and products. Due to this, we do not have enough historical “data” that is relevant to the current situation. When we make decisions with this “bad data”, the outcomes are not successful. 

So think about the experienced people who have made wrong decisions. The usual culprit is that their experience is not relevant in the current scenario. A young professional who is unaware of the old scenario’s might judge the situation for what it truly worth and make a better decision. This is clear in the number of young people leading successful companies today. 

So for normal people like you and me, how do we ensure our experience is relevant? The better way to ask ourselves is to see how we can maintain a “good dataset”?

Fail Fast:

There is nothing better than to fail fast. Let our experience not govern our intentions to make huge bets. Make your decisions in small test doses and see if it succeeds. If it does, go all in and execute successfully. 

Be a sponge:

It is really important to learn new things. Listening can be a good first step. People think they should be spending their vacations reading and learning to stay competitive in the workplace today.The fact is that we are surrounded by brilliant people. By being open to their opinions, respectful of their perspective and absorptive of the knowledge, we can increase our knowledge bank passively. 

Maintaining a “calm assertive” state of mind:

The workplace today is tense. The pace of business is rapid and we are expected to respond quickly. This scenario results in us either responding from our gut or responding because of adrenalin. The tone and language in the workplace today is vastly different from the old days. 

Maintaining a “calm assertive” state of mind can help us logically breakdown a problem. We not only empower ourselves to make a decision but also help others in the room since our energy is transferred to them. By being calm, we can think about failing fast, be a sponge and make our decisions in the right frame of mind. 


Takeaways: 

  1. Experience is valuable in certain areas, not all
  2. Relevant experience is useful when decisions are made in consideration of the difference between the current scenario and success in the ( recent or distant) past
  3. You can make successful decisions if you
    • design your decision to fail fast
    • be a sponge
    • be in a calm assertive state of mind