Monday, May 26, 2008

Is experience everything?

I have been thinking about experience on a regular basis lately. I notice that every time someone mentions wanting to do something new be it a hobby, a job function, or even related to travel or choosing a new city, one of the first questions people ask them is, "Do you have any experience with that?" or "Have you ever been there or done that before?" 

I got asked this question all the time about a year ago as I was interviewing for jobs post-MBA. It seemed that experience counted for far more than my education or my interests. I actually went to one interview in which an interviewer asked me what the hell I was doing there because I had never worked in the industry the the company was in. When I mentioned that the company, in desperate need of a turnaround, needed fresh eyes to look at old problems to find new solutions, the interviewer looked at me as if I had begun speaking in an unknown language. 

And in a manner of speaking, I guess it was a new language - the language of youth and energy and passion, three things the interviewer did not possess. And I don't mean youth in terms of age, but rather in terms of attitude and thinking. The interviewer refused to believe that any problem could be solved using new methods. It was very much an "I've been there, done that" kind of deal. And then I considered the incredible success of Silicon Valley - it is an industry that was largely built by people who had no experience in the areas they were trying to master. They couldn't have experience because they, and the world for that matter, were venturing into unknown territory. It was a great blessing that no one had the ability to say, "Well, when I was at X company, we did it this way." With that attitude, we may have never been able to witness the www as we know it. 

I mentioned this concern about "old thinking" to my friend, Dan, recently, and he said that this may very much be a function of just getting older and more experienced. And that got me thinking, and then it got me worried. Am I destined to become one of those people who believes she has seen it all before, someone who will eventually discard the energy and fascination with newness that so many young people have?

No. I've decided that I just won't be that way. I can't be that way, for the sake of my own success if nothing else. So I keep challenging myself to go places and do things that I've never done before. I do things that scare me. Things that I believe are beyond the scope of my ability. And this is critical to retaining youth - because even if I fail at these new ventures, at least it will remind me that I don't everything about anything. It will remind that there is always, always something new to learn. 

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