Monday, June 13, 2011

Is Experience Overrated?

Perhaps, I can propose the following question.  Does experience allow you to predict future performance?  Research suggests that hiring and promoting at a managerial and executive level fails 50% of the time.  One of the primary reasons in this failure is our over-reliance on past experience.  Prior experience often weight more in our hiring and promotional decisions because it’s safe, it’s comfortable, and it’s what we’ve always done.  We can use it as an excuse for bad hiring decisions.   “John had 17 years of experience.  I don’t quite understand why he was not successful.”  We automatically assume that an individual who worked in a similar position at another organization was actually good at their job.  We assume this on the notion that the prior organization wouldn’t allow substandard performance.  

With all the value that experience brings, there is little evidence to suggest that experience is the key ingredient to success.  Furthermore, experienced managers does not necessarily equate to good leaders.  We make decisions about people on positive assumptions about their experience.  We make these assumptions, even though we may personally know leaders in key positions who may not be the best person for the role, even with years of previous experience.  Past successes are a better predictor of future success. 

Being inexperienced has some definite advantages.  When you are inexperienced, you have everything to gain.  In this case, ignorance can not only bliss, it can be empowering as well.  A lot of successful companies were founded and run by inexperienced entrepreneurs who became CEOs.  To name a few, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell were very inexperienced.  Bill Gates was 21 when he founded the most valuable technology company in the world, Microsoft.

Many of our major Internet companies were founded and in many cases were run by inexperienced entrepreneurs.  Pierre Omidyar was 28 when he founded eBay.  Larry Page and Sergey Brin were both in their late twenties when they founded Google.  Mark Zuckerberg is only 26, and currently the CEO of Facebook.  All were inexperience individuals, who became extremely successful because of their talents.    

The successes of inexperience individuals are not just in the technology area but cross other industries as well.  Richard Branson was 22 when he started Virgin Records.  The company Virgin Group is currently comprised of a number of other industries and has revenues of $18 billion.  Even though the individuals I just mentioned were relatively young when they started their businesses, the concept is not generational.  Talent has no boundaries and crosses all age groups.  The only limit to talent is limiting opportunities to talented people.
During the course of my career, I’ve met a number of successful ordinary people who were short on experience but extremely talented.  Business solutions require individuals who have new and innovative ideals and grounding breaking methodologies.   It requires new strategies and concepts.  It may also require a paradigm shift.

If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we will continue to get what we’ve always gotten.  We are only limited by our own imagination.  Leaders who are bold, daring, willing to take risks and venture into un-chartered waters, will be the ones that will lead us into the next century.  Often times there is a sense of mediocrity that makes us complacent in how we process information.  Mediocrity makes us conform to the status quo.  There has never been, to my knowledge a shortage of experience.  The shortage has always been with talent.  Reality is that a talented person with limited experience may have the same probability of success.  Some would even suggest that the probability of success is much greater when it comes to talent.

How important is experience?  Do we rely on it so much that it limits our ability to be creative and reach greater heights?  Does it limit our productivity and profitability potential?  How do we recruit for talent and unleash the talents within our organizations?

I’d love to hear your opinions.

~ Joseph Conrod Sr. SPHR

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