In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy. ~Jean Paul Getty
More than 20 years ago I worked for an organization that was thriving, a leader in the industry. But times have changed; the industry this organization is in has changed dramatically over the past decade. Add to that a completely different economy, all their years of experience truly might be disabling them from adapting to rapid change. They are half the size they were a decade ago and struggling to stay alive. Nearly all of the current leaders have been there for more than 20 years. Have all their years of experience become their worst enemy?
Does the law of diminishing returns apply to experience? Is there a point when not just an organization’s, but a leader’s experience become more of a hindrance than an asset? Can we identify when experience slows the ability to change and adapt to a dynamic environment?
Experience can lead to a treasure trove of wisdom and insight, but it can also lead to unforeseen quicksand that stops us in our tracks and hinders our ability to see more than a few feet in front of us. Is our experience broadening our vision as if we’re looking at the world through both a telescope and a microscope or has it gradually become blinders that narrowed our vision?
How might you know the difference? You could ask a few questions.
- When was the last time you tried a new approach to a common problem or challenge, instead of what you’ve always done?
- When was the last time you learned to do something new?
- When was the last time you really listened to someone just entering your field?
- When was the last time you really listened to your customers?
- When was the last time you really studied your competition?
- When was the last time you asked what your business (or department) would look like if you were starting your business today?
Experience is one of those things that happens over time, gradually, and when things happen gradually we don’t always recognize the affect it has on us. We become the proverbial frog in the kettle. Is your experience creating a normalized response, or is it creating a sense of curiosity to continue to explore, ask questions, and remain nimble for whatever change comes your way?
Experience is not inherently bad! Like with many things, it depends upon how you use your experience—as a lens of curiosity or as blinders that have narrowed your perspective.