The longer you've worked, the more experience you have, the more qualified you are. Or so the theory goes.

Generally speaking, the theory holds. But not for the reason that most people assume.

It comes down to how you interpret "experience". And based on how most of us have been conditioned to understand the word, the truth of the matter is that one's experience has almost no bearing on how qualified they are for a position.

Here's an exercise: Take someone young – a child, a grandchild, a niece or nephew – walk them through your house and point out all the technology that didn't exist when you were their age. In many cases you'll find that most of the technology hasn't been around that long!

The point is, the rate of change has never been faster. Businesses have changed more in the last three years than they did in the previous ten, and they'll probably change more in the next three years than they have in the last five! So when someone says that they have 20 years or even 40 years of work experience, what does that mean anymore? Sure, they've accumulated some very practical knowledge; more than likely, they're a whiz at performing a set of prescribed tasks. But are those tasks relevant in today's world? Will they be relevant tomorrow? Could be the answer is no. In today's business world, there's no such thing as 10, 20 or 30 years of experience.

But that's not to say that those years of work experience are for naught; it's just that the value derived from that experience comes from the wisdom learned. It actually relates very well to Charles Darwin's often misunderstood "survival of the fittest" phrase. Darwin didn't mean for "fittest" to imply pure strength or size or smarts; instead, it relates to one's adaptability. The same goes here: When it comes to performing a process that didn't exist five years ago, someone who has worked for 40 years has no advantage over someone 35 years their junior. However, the advantage that older person does hold is 35 additional years of accumulated wisdom. When properly valued and leveraged, that's an advantage that cannot be understated. Unfortunately it's all too often undervalued.

As you develop your employees, don't make it about showing them how to get from A to B. Instead, equip them with the ability (the skills, tools, thinking) to figure it out on their own and empower them to adapt to changes in their environment. In today's and tomorrow's business world, experience that instills those skills is the only kind that will truly matter.

Posted: 1/11/2011 10:43:26 PM by Brett Morris | with 2 comments
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