Make experience work

Make experience work

The first thoughtful definition of experience I learnt came from my father. He was big on definitions and compiled a book of them. Not functional, unimaginitive, definitions, more challenging, teaser definitions to make you work it out for yourself. “Experience”, he said, “lends precision to the craftsman’s tool, and confidence – but leaves a fool a fool.” I have seen many examples that support this but I have also wondered if it perhaps undervalued how we learn a lot of what we know. Recent research done by McKinsey has shown that experience is, indeed, a valuable contribution to our learning. But that still fails to connect the dots.  It doesn’t say how what is learned must be applied.

That work experience drives the value of human capital is without question. It is the best evidence we have that someone has done something which is likely to be of worth to our business. Each stage of life brings the chance to learn and apply new skills. What we have done in the past is better proof of what we are likely to succeed at in the future than even the most prestigious degree or proclamation. That is why interviews for jobs are often based on career to date – even though they want to know what you will do for them now.

History may repeat itself – often does, indeed. It almost never repeats itself exactly. So how are we to use the past as a projection of the future? Not by expecting the same things to happen now as happened then. Nor to expect that old solutions will directly solve new problems. The help that experience gives us is that problems and opportunities of the kind you encountered in the past will be faced with the same sort of reasoning, logic and behaviour, because that is what you bring to the table. That still doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to solve or exploit them but it’s a better guide than most.

The missing piece of the jigsaw is creativity. Situations do not replicate exactly what we have learnt from the past. So how can something like this, that happened then, be modified to apply to new circumstances. The question we have to answer is what are the similarities to, and what are the differences from, the problems we dealt with previously. When you have fathomed that you are in a good position to say which of the solutions you posed then remain relevant today and which do not. You will determine which bits of what you did then apply to which parts of the solution you now seek.

What enables you to compare these different but related situations?

The ability to perceive relationships allows you to see where your experience may work and where it may not. That is why we encourage you to make yourself work out the relationship between even the most unlikely objects and situations. That way, perceiving relationships becomes second nature and your experience is put to excellent use. Easy to see the relationship between water and a glass; not so easy to see the relationship between a cat and a tulip. But everything is related, so there is one.

Experience without creativity, as my father said, leaves a fool a fool.

After all, the best definition of creativity is “The ability to perceive relationships.”

Good morning

John Bittleston