“In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.” – J. Paul Getty
One of the most valued things in our world is experience. We often talk about how experience helped us get through some kind of barrier, or how an experience helped us grow. Sometimes with experience we’re better able to handle unexpected challenges with calm certainty, rather than panicked chaos.
Experience is certainly valuable. But what about in today’s world? I’ve written here before (and it’s been written in a million other places) about the pace of change in our current environment. It seems like very little stays the same from one day to the next, never mind from year to year.
In a world like that, our way of approaching problems needs to be different than it’s been before. Quite often, organizations would approach a key decision by asking themselves, “Is this something we’ve seen before?” If the answer was yes (and quite often it was), then great, just do whatever it is you did the last time. And chances are, if it worked last time, it will probably work again.
I don’t think that rings true anymore. Partly because many of the barriers we face are different than they were fifteen or twenty – or even five! – years ago. We may not have experience dealing with some of the things we’re currently facing.
But I think a potentially more dangerous situation occurs when we face situations that are similar in nature to what we’ve faced in the past. When that happens, it’s too easy to draw on experience and just do what we’ve always done. To think of a recent example: If someone had employees that weren’t happy years ago, and Solution A fixed it, they’ll just try that again. The problem is, people aren’t the same as they were before. Right now there are as many as four different generations in a given workplace, and they all approach the world differently. What excited and engaged employees years ago may do the opposite today.
I’m not suggesting that we throw out every single bit of experience we have as totally useless. What I’m suggesting is that no matter how much success you may have had in the past – whether it’s overcoming barriers or taking advantage of opportunities – you have to rigorously examine what you’re doing and the decisions you’re making every time. Don’t allow yourself to ever make a key decision or take a key action without asking if there’s a completely different (i.e., better) way to do it.
Are you innovating every day? If you’re not doing something innovative today, then you’re doing what’s been done in the past. And if that’s the case, you may not like your future. Don’t let experience be the anchor that weighs you down.