May 24 2016

I read an article the other day that was a modification of what I thought was a consulting urban legend. A consultant called in to fix something nobody else could fix and a huge invoice for merely pointing out where to make a simple repair by marking the machine with chalk. The invoice was then broken down as “£1 for the chalk mark & £9,999 for knowing where to put it”.

It turns out to have been based on a true story that is definitely worth a read! This, in and of itself, is noteworthy because so many stories are fabricated for effect. However, the story was posted on LinkedIn & commented on by many. The post & many of the comments suggested that we shouldn’t underestimate experience.

I have to challenge that maxim, experience is great, don’t get me wrong. But how many people have experienced the same failures or problems over & over again? How many companies get into the same trouble year after year? Does the experience of those involved actually matter if they haven’t actually learned how to stop it from happening? Have they actually learned anything from the experience?

Learning how to cope with a problem comes from experience. Knowing how to solve a problem comes from knowledge. Knowledge itself can be gained through experience but it must be sought after, supplemented by analysis, exploration, inquiry, investigation, etc.… Just being involved (experienced) does not create new knowledge.

We, as a modern society, value experience highly. Job postings for just about any job require X years of experience. But for whatever reason, we automatically equate experience with knowledge, and this just isn’t always the case. There is a correlation there, but not necessarily causation. If it were, then anyone with sufficient experience would be solving problems permanently, not just finding ways around them or coping with them.

Experience without learning is the same as doing things over & over again and expecting different results. How many of us do that? My old boss said it best when he used to say, “do you have 20 years of experience or a year’s experience repeated 20 times?” The former means you have gained knowledge along the way, the latter means you’re just along for the ride.

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