Newton did not discover gravity simply by sitting under a tree when an apple fell on his head. He had since long time been preparing his mind for exactly this occasion. Everything worth doing, is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well. When the right things are done well, we produce good results. A prerequisite for producing good results is to have knowledge of the matter in the form of facts, skills, understanding and familiarity.
Talent plays a role, undoubtedly, but it is a supporting role. No amount of native talent can prepare a knowledge worker for the infinite variety of circumstances she will face or the challenges she must surmount. No gene for resilience ensures that jewelry of wisdom will suddenly appear during challenging times. Neither talent nor genes can compensate for lack of experience. As Nietzsche said: “A man has no ears for that to which experience has given him no access.”
At IBM – where I was educated in the beginning of my career – it is believed that developing business knowledge is 10% classroom instruction, 20% on-the-job coaching and networking and 70% experience. How do we learn from experience? As we can easily find examples where two people have the same experience but entirely different takeaways the answer is not straightforward.
Experience by itself guarantees nothing. For example, what is often mistaken for 20 years’ of experience is just 1 year’s experience repeated 20 times. That type of experience should be avoided as it could create such deep brain tracks it may become impossible to free yourself. But usually we learn from our experience. The factor that more than any other will determine how much we learn from study and work can be summarized in one word: motivation.
- Motivation means that we are focused in the moment and reflect on our experiences which significantly increase our capacity to organize and memorize experience. By then give voice to our experiences and share knowledge with others, we develop our own knowledge. By articulating what we learned, we enhance our knowledge.
- In the book “Talent is overrated” the reason for good performances is scrutinized and the conclusion is: practice, practice, practice. But not just any exercise. If you want to get really good at something your exercise can not be conducted aimlessly. It must be challenging and take place in a reasoned state of mind.
Where does motivation come from? When Einstein was faced with that question he equated motivation with curiosity and said that it has its own reasons to exist. I have seen many who passed IBM’s aptitude test for programming with flying colors but never performed well. To do well on tests does not help against indifference or laziness. During the recruitment of people in the beginning of their career, it is an uncertainty that must be accepted, you cannot know about peoples future interests.
The more experience a candidate has, the less reason to evaluate anything other than her actual level of capacity and match it to what it takes to fill the position. The probability that a person who has been a controller the first 20 years of work can become a good leader is microscopic. And there is not a long track record of people leaving professional sports to become a software developer.
There is an absolute logic in that “you must learn to crawl before you can walk.” Denying the facts and take an arrogant attitude to the fruits of experience is not being progressive. Newton’s gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity… When you look forward by looking back it is clear that professionalism comes from building on what others have learned. Trying to reinvent the wheel is at best pointless.
For all wide-ranging theories of expert cultivation, everyone agrees that anyone who seeks to perform must have firsthand experience, have had their feet wet and their hands dirty from the field where they aspire to deliver results. Also failures are experiences. Of course you can learn from mistakes. Have you never made a mistake; you have probably done too little! As Dr. Travis Bradberry put it, “Success is what happens after you’ve survived your mistakes.”
You can outsmart Jante by creating an internal compass, using certain experiences so that you can avoid unnecessary conflicts. Of course you should care, but not too much. All things are not equally important. Yet, it may still be tough for an experienced person to be eyed at the seams when applying for a new assignment. But that is not the problem. It is the solution for those who are qualified and for those who recruit for achieving good results.
We each view everything through our personal experience. It is this experience, integrated into our consciousness, which determines what we believe an objective event to be. If you see a great improvement capability but your experience is a limiting one, you will most likely see yourself as limited and view change as difficult and scary. If you, instead, are full of successful experiences, you are not only more of an expert but also better prepared to transform opportunity into advantage.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle