One of the ways to develop a cutting edge workforce is to have experienced people working for you. But beware: True experience must be constructed - it’s not as simple as living through an event.
In the book Living Toad Free: Overcoming Resistance to Motivation, which I co-authored with Dr Dennis Rader, we encourage people to “gain experience.” To help understand this task, we provide some background on the word experience:
In ancient Persia, there were stories about malevolent spirits that lurked in the forests. Whenever people were so unlucky as to encounter one, they could get hurt, even crippled, or sometimes, even die. An evil spirit was known as a “peri.” That word jumped over to the Greek language, and, from there, to Latin. The word “peri” now forms the root of such words as peril, perish, expert, and experience.
Etymologically, the word “experience” means to escape a danger. It does not mean to possess a certain body of knowledge, as is a common use (or misuse) today.
Experience indicates the accumulation of wisdom from having faced and, most importantly, worked through, perilous situations. Experienced people are ones who have dealt with their [obstacles] in a courageous and healthy way. An expert is, regardless of paper credentials, someone who has gained experience.
We emphasize that experience has to be gained, or constructed. As we live through an event, we can either learn from it or let it pass unnoticed.
Based on the core meaning of the word, truly experienced people are those that learn from life’s events. On the other hand, some people can stumble into situations from now until Doomsday and not learn anything from them.
During a recent workshop, one group came up with a useful analogy. They equated life events with bricks. The person who learns from his or her situations “constructs” something useful with the bricks. These bricks are ordered, providing functionality for a prescribed purpose.
The person who does not learn from life’s situations simply has a collection of bricks. They’re probably piled up somewhere, but there is no order or meaning to them.
A good manager is one who encourages people to learn from situations. They don’t just expect people to do it, they actively support and facilitate it.
One way to this is to have regular meetings for the purpose of learning. This is a common occurrence in military units, often referred to as an After Action Review, or AAR. During an AAR, the leader asks what went right, what could have been done better in response to any unexpected event, and what could be done in the future to make things go smoother.
This type of “debrief” meeting is also common in high-tech firms. A good rule of thumb for meetings like this is to use good brainstorming techniques. If input is squelched, people will stop participating.
On an individual basis one can set aside time at the end of the day and ask similar questions of one’s self. A few minutes reviewing the day’s events and identifying lessons to be learned is perhaps the best way to “construct” experience.
Be sure to make this a positive learning time, not a time for self-criticism.
Peter Senge, in his book The Learning Organization, indicates that the successful company of the future is one that learns faster than the competition. Creating an atmosphere that encourages the discovery and construction of true experience will help your organization go down that successful path.