How often do our kids hear that having no background or experience affords them a competitive advantage? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that. Indeed, as they pursue their careers one of the questions most frequently asked is “What experience do you have?”
I’m not suggesting that experience isn’t valuable. Having experience shortens learning curves and improves productivity in the early stages of employment. The problem with the question as posed is that it’s designed to exclude people who have no prior experience or background…potential sources of innovation.
Virtually all disruptive innovation comes from outside the discipline, field or industry impacted. Steve Jobs remade the music industry at a time when the industry was at a loss as to what direction it should take.
Similarly, James Gleick, in his book Chaos: The Making of a Science, says that the math that came out of chaos theory should have come from the disciplines of math and physics. Instead it came from meteorology and the behavioral sciences.
If we don’t surround ourselves with people who have no background or experience in our field, we deprive ourselves of the “dumb questions” that often lead to disruptive innovation.
A need for both
As with most things in life, it’s not a question of “either or,” it’s a question of “and.” We need both types of people in our lives…those with experience in our field and those with experience outside our field.
We need people with experience to help spur evolutionary change (regular improvements in our offerings and processes). We also need people to challenge “industry thinking.” In order to get both, we have to evaluate people not only on the basis of their experience, but on their ability to produce results when they have no background or experience.
In other words, we need people whose thinking isn’t hindered by prior experience. Indeed, the people who possess this ability are, in my opinion, more valuable because they can produce even when they have no prior experience. To me, they are the ones who have a competitive advantage over those who don’t possess this ability.
For our kids
What does this mean for our kids? First, we need to teach them that prior experience isn’t necessary to be successful…that, indeed, most disruptive innovation comes from outside the field or industry.
Along with that we need to help them challenge conventional wisdom. Much of it is flat out wrong. Helping them discover the errors in conventional thinking will help them develop the ability…and competitive advantage…that creative thinkers possess.
Finally, we need to teach them how to respond to the question “Do you have experience in our field?” When I was in corporate America I got bored easily and changed jobs on average every 3 years, so I got that question a lot.
I’d answer by saying “No, but I didn’t have any experience with credit and collection. Yet I helped [company] cut the average age of their receivables from 55 days to 38 days in just 6 months. My staff and I cut 16,000 hours out of a 40,000 hour annual budget while improving morale and continuously producing better information for operating managers.”
In other words, I’d highlight results I’d gotten when I had no background or experience. Teach your kids to keep a log of their achievements especially when they had no prior experience so that they can refer to it later. Touting these successes will dramatically alter the perception of the questioner regarding the importance of experience.
If it doesn’t, then it’s probably not a situation in which your child could thrive and he/she should walk away. They’re more likely to do so when they understand that not having a background is a competitive advantage as long as they can produce results.