10-years’ Experience OR 1-year of Experience 10 Times Over?

In a recent conversation with a friend who just retired as a commercial pilot with more than 40 years of experience, I asked him if he preferred talent or experience in the co-pilot seat. “Experience!” he exclaimed; without hesitation – no question. You and I might too, as passengers on that plane from Atlanta to Dubai. But, it caused to me think. Where does talent come in to play?

Where does talent come in to play?

Length of time in a position or field is not as important as the types of experience gained while in that position. 5-years’ experience in a dynamic environment vs. 10-years’ experience in a static environment are not the same.

In the case for talent, when the going gets rough, the ability to reach deep down inside and draw on your natural strengths is imperative. Otherwise, not yet having had the experience, there is nothing to draw on, and this is when raw talent is the key. Consider two people with 5 years on the job. One did the same thing every day while the other faced obstacles, setbacks, and ‘anomalies’. Who has more “experience”?

At age 24, I was selected to be the HR Manager for a $40M greenfield plant start-up. My boss was a seasoned executive in the self-actualization stage of his career and had the opportunity to build a plant and work system he had dreamed of. His goal was to implement the best of the best of what he learned during his career. He selected me because “I didn’t know anything” about HR. He wanted raw talent – someone open to new ideas and unbiased ways of doing things – not someone who had “been there and done it.”

Experience was not required, since we selected employees based on cognitive skills, behavioral traits, and occupational interests.

We established an office in the county airport, and the work began. We hired most of the leadership team with a mix of experience in the industry, and others with none. Then we began hiring machine operators. Experience was not required, since we selected employees based on cognitive skills, behavioral traits, and occupational interests. They were taught the operation of new equipment with the latest technology, and cultural norms we desired. Experience was important, but talent was more important. We selected talented people over experience every time. In record time, ahead of forecast, we were up and running turning a profit.

As for some, experience only means they survived.

Relying on experience to get you through current challenges may leave you helpless. As for some, experience only means they survived. Nothing else. Have they increased revenue, reduced costs, or improved efficiencies because of their experience? How have they applied what they learned? What problems have been solved or prevented?

Having personally experienced managing the aftermath of serious workplace injuries and even a fatality, it is certainly an experience, but during such time where the same conditions could never be repeated. However, drawing on an ability to effectively think on the fly, communicate compassionately yet succinctly, and navigate processes was imperative. Nevertheless, an experience in which hopefully I’ll never have to draw on again. If so, the conditions would not likely be comparable. So, what’s the value of that one experience? Exercising the strengths and talents we own.

Experience matters, yes – but…

Experience matters, yes – but the real difference is the talent drawn upon given the circumstances we are faced at the time.

On an international flight to Dubai through that region’s airspace, pilots may experience obstacles never seen before. As a passenger, I’m betting on a talented pilot to see us through, as they would have not yet likely encountered that “one-off” experience that might just make the difference in a safe landing.

While thousands enter the workforce with no experience, it’s their talent that ultimately wins the game.

What are your strengths and talents? How are you leveraging them to the benefit of your organization?

Are you gaining experience or just doing time?

Dave Baker

Dave Baker is the founder and CEO at Palmetto Leadership Center in Anderson, SC. He has been helping manufacturing site leaders get results for more than 25 years to improve their organization's culture, performance, and workforce engagement to effectively execute their strategy. His experience spans a variety of manufacturing environments including the automotive, pharmaceutical, and wood products industries. He can be reached directly at (864) 902-4400 or dave@palmettoleadershipcenter.com ; www.palmettoleadershipcenter.com

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