The value of experience

Experience” is one of those vague words that can mean almost anything.  Work experiences come in all shapes and sizes, some of which stay with people for a long time, some of which merely fade away. It is obvious that work experience comes in a wide range of actions both simple and complex, impressions both boring and sublime, and data transformation both joyful and painstaking.

Experience shows up on resumes and sometimes in life. But experience (even BAD experience) is valuable. That’s my argument in this post: experience matters, it has value and it is worth paying for.

“The word experience derives from the Latin experientia, meaning trial, proof or experiment.”

An example:

To spur your thinking on this subject, ponder this chart and you’ll see my comparisons between a new hire with no experience at your company and someone who has been in your organization 5-10 years. This is the most mundane of experience comparisons in an organization, e.g. new employees versus tenured employees.

Experience Comparison

Experience

So, in the most basic of experience comparisons, the more experienced person is more effective in the organization. Experience matters. Thus the reason on-boarding is so critical!

People who have a network within a company, who have taken the time to build relationships with others so those things move smoothly, are worth paying for. An example: in an organization I worked in, we hired two VPs who took months learning their way around the organization. The time it took them to learn and gain experience and insight into the organization affected the rest of the team. Even for high level people, experience matters.

Digging deeper, here are some of the values experience provides:

#1 – Experienced people tend to balance emotion and cognition – fear and rationality

When faced with a complex and potentially fearsome situation, the novice looks and senses confusion at best, and likely fear at worst. Fear is known to short circuit good decision making. The experienced person feels the same kinds of sensations but knows things can be different and overcome. This ability allows for more patience in decision-making in the face of danger and risk.

#2 – Experienced people tend to have Increased Empathy – The ability to understand someone else

Whilst it is arguable that empathy is a trait with varying levels of intensity per person, over a lifetime people can increase their level of empathy and improve their decision making. Understanding how someone else feels allows for a greater assessment of ‘how things will take a turn’ once a decision is made, which in turn creates corrective action.

#3 – Experienced people tend to balance expectations, increasing the likelihood of achieving a collective goal

Experienced individuals know how to “Size up” a situation. They have a sense of “What is this really going to take?”, and thus are able to manage expectations. They have the capacity for assessing situations, including emotional risks – “been there; did that” – “I’ve been burned”, so here’s how we can avoid a disaster. Experienced people have a depth of understanding the novice simply cannot grasp.

#4 – Experienced people have tacit rules of thumb – aka Heuristics

Big word there: heuristics. Simply put, experts have ‘rules of thumb’, ways of grasping a situation quickly. Why? When we have a new experience, we cut neural pathways in the brain. When those experiences are repeated, the pathways become super highways that allow decisions at lightning speed. Novices do not have powerful heuristics which take time to develop.

#5 – Experienced people have the capability to anticipate the future

Because experienced people have heuristics, they have the innate capability to anticipate Their experience is helpful during strategic planning or other exercises requiring foresight based on judgment and rules of thumb. “I’ve seen this before – been there before” means a great deal when launching into risky situations. Those with experience can indeed help others to avoid problems and pitfalls.

#6 – Experienced people tend to have a wide angle lens – they can see more of the ‘whole’ – the ‘big picture’.

An experienced individual has more breadth, more ability to assess priorities and requirements and resources required to achieve a goal. There is such a thing as a ‘big picture’ which is an interconnectedness of many elements other than the problem at hand. Experienced people know to look outside their gaze and see other parts of the system that have impact on problems, including priorities and political interactions.

Drawbacks?

Oh, I know there are those who will say: “So called experienced people will resist change or not challenge the status quo.” That is sometimes true, but think about it – – – there’s a reason they react that way. They’ve seen what others haven’t seen and they want to assure a good outcome. Unless they are complete cynics (a small part of the populace who have been hurt along the way) they will offer their insight.

Benefits? Mentor-ships have value – they are literally “cognitive apprenticeships”

Asking experienced people what rules of thumb they have learned is a way to gain from the depth of their insight. Since experienced people have “cut neurological ground” they have valuable resources to offer to others in a learning situation. Just ask them!

Experience matters.

If you’re a young leader, take the risks to get experience and to learn from it. If you are an experienced member of the team, share it.

That is precisely what I am doing in this post!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Jim Bohn is a keynote speaker and the author of the book: “The Nuts and Bolts of Leadership” available on Amazon.com

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