The end of Experience?

“Experience” has for a very long time been seen as a prerequisite for senior management positions. In many respects however, it is now a hangover.

Much of what was gained in “experience” is now subverted by easy access to knowledge and other people. Back then, people could make an entire career by eking out the knowledge from undergraduate training inside highly structured bureaucracies, supplemented by training on how to run the machine that was the organisation.

With knowledge doubling every day, the challenge we face is not to accumulate it, but filter it. Learning what no longer serves us, and holds us back in a previous era is as important as being able to identify the signal in the tsunami of noise that is presented to us daily.

The certainty and regularity we have all been encouraged to seek no longer exists. The gentle paddle in the boating pond has been replaced by constant grade 5 white water and we have to go with the flow.

The nature of what constitutes important experience has changed. Experience now is about our ability to handle grade 5 white water. To identify the signal amidst the noise, and to inspire and support those doing the paddling.

Looking around, many organisations are substantially run by bewildered boating pond paddlers, trying to lead and manage gen 3.0 talent with an entirely different worldview and set of aspirations. They are talented, mobile and driven by a welcome set of values around people and the planet.

The rate of change of technology, politics, and ecosystems of every sort means that valid experience in many areas can be measured in months. Anything more can suggest learning atrophy. We need those we work with to have one foot in functional excellence for what is needed today, with the other firmly planted in a curiosity about the emerging unknown which will power tomorrow.

It’s a tough call for those with mortgages and a career based on a different time, but being a tough call doesn’t make it something we can avoid.

I don’t think it matters whether we’re twenty or sixty. It’s not a matter of chronology, it’s a mindset thing.

Curiosity, confidence and a clear sense of purpose are the qualities that differentiate us from AI (for now at any rate).

Being curious and open to uncertainty is a choice we can make, and increasingly, a survival skill.

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Playing what isn’t there

Miles Davis created his unique sound by “playing what wasn’t there”. He had an approach that used notes as signposts, not as instructions.

In the industrial economy, we played the notes. A whole industry was developed creating business plans, business qualifications, and consulting offers based around this approach. It worked really well as long as the assumptions that they were based on – replicability, repeatability, and the mantra of volume, scale and market share held true.

But increasingly, it doesn’t any longer.

We have seen exemplars of failure from Kodak to Borders, and more recently the iconic Radio Shack. They were all playing the notes, but increasingly, no-one was listening.

As the orthodoxies of the industrial economy gives way to the constructive chaos of the connection economy we need different skills. Less orchestra, more Miles Davis. More curiosity, less compliance.

There are a number of trends emerging that will accelerate the rate of change:

1. What can be automated, will be. The rise and rise on intelligent algorithms replacing jobs, professions, departments, and even whole businesses. Anything that can be reduced to a process. Computers just don’t care how complex the process is, and smart people can write the algorithms.

2. The obvious foundation of any business in a connection economy is people – not as labour, but as creators. The balance of power is shifting away from organisations and towards individuals and groups. People are looking for organisations that help them create what they are driven to create, no longer just as “jobs”.

3. Medium sized businesses are likely to become the powerhouses. Big enough to matter, small enough to be flexible, and more likely to have people in them – owners and members – with real “agency”. A sense of place, purpose and ownership, and without the sea anchors of demanding shareholders with limited agendas.

4. Old labels – from “talent” to “innovation” and “sectors” are less and less useful. The nature of the changes taking place are too complex for them to be useful. Some of the major changes taking place are happening across entire industries, creating whole new concepts and linking people and ideas in whole new ways. Here are four of the top 12 (thanks to Roger James Hamilton)

– Digital currencies

– Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding

– Materialisation – 3D printing

– Virtual reality – gamified connection.

The combination of all these trends is creating a chaotic environment full of opportunity. with new rules:

– To paraphrase the conventional wisdom of politics – “It’s the people, stupid!” Connection and technology can realise peoples ideas, but it can’t create them. Although qualifications and experience still count, they are no longer the currency of success. Creativity and connection are.

– Business plans are still useful, but no guarantee of success. They are a reference point at a given moment in time, and no more. Awareness, adaption and improvisation on the move – the  characteristics of effectual thinking are key, as against the causal thinking that has dominated our business education and training for so long.

– Communities of purpose – groups of people with shared values in pursuit of common goals – is the new scale. Whether as small businesses, or small teams within corporates – they are where the leverage is. The job of the organisation is becoming one of supporting and getting out of the way.

So, in the middle of all this – the good, no, the great, news is that you as an individual have never been so important or so empowered if you choose to be.

It requires two things – pursuing something important, a job as a means to an end rather than an end in itself, and secondly, self belief and self development – constant learning. Genius is another one of those redundant labels – we all have aspects of genius within us, but it won’t show itself unless you give it the room.

Stuck is mostly a choice

There are different sorts of stuck. Sometimes, things happen – our car breaks down or the weather closes in at the airport, – something outside our control. In observing many people and businesses though, mostly we get stuck in process. We get trapped in the way we think we should do things. In these cases, getting stuck is a choice.

I was reminded of the elevator ads when I read Seth Godin’s latest book  – What to do when it’s your turn”.  The ad is worth taking time to watch (and the book to read). It’s funny, and vaguely uncomfortable. Is your career like an elevator, and if it’s stuck, what will it take you to get off?