Looking Beyond The Experience Curtain


Last week I spent an afternoon with my young grandson, Zane, who decided he was sick of this crawling caper and decided:  “Right it is now time to walk!”

Watching him embark on this early childhood challenge was fascinating. Over the course of a couple of hours, between playing with various toys on the floor, he made a several attempts to stand up – all of which ended in disaster with him crashing towards the  carpet (don’t worry there we plenty of people around to catch him to prevent any damage). The interesting part of all this was that his attempts were slightly different and a little more successful than the previous one. Clearly he was learning from each failure, adapting his approach and having another go.  Eventually he found a bookcase with shelves at the right height for him and would support his little body (he had discovered early on that cushions and blinds weren’t much good for this). By the time I left him that day he was crawling across the floor to the bookcase, quickly hauling himself up and then scuttling back and forth along the length of the bookcase using a shelf for support.

This little episode got me thinking about the concept of “experience” and how we so often use it in a very limited way in business.

According to my dictionary app,  experience is defined as:  “A particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something: My encounter with the bear in the woods was a frightening experience”. So in fact experience literally means encountering a number of events – nothing more.

In business I have found that we mostly stick to this narrow context when using the word – “Must have 5 years experience in a senior leadership position” or “experience in case management essential” or “Our consultancy has over 200 years combined experience in the not-for-profit sector” etc. In effect, as leaders we are saying: “OK so you have done the time, check, now we can consider you for this appointment”.

But as we saw in Zane’s case, experience is not just about encounters, it also involves responses. And we as leaders  are missing out on so much valuable information if we don’t enquire about these.

To illustrate my point try this with your direct reports:

  • Sit down with them one on one
  • Chat about the things they think went wrong in their roles over the past period – month , quarter, whatever.
  • Then ask what lessons they learnt from these events and whether and how they put these lessons into practice.
  • Enquire about the consequences of these actions or inactions.
  • Are their further lessons to be learnt?

By delving into others experiences you can learn so much – ranging from operational issues you may not have been aware of, insights that perhaps should be shared with a wider group or the whole organisation, through to development opportunities that may exist with your work colleague.

As C.S. Lewis observed:

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn”.  

From experience good leaders look beyond the event or encounter and take full advantage of the learnings.

Finally a little assignment for you: The next time you are considering engaging a consultant to help you or your organisation rather than being totally impressed by the claim that their firm has a combined experience of over a zillion years in the not for profit sector ask them to list their 3 biggest consulting failures and what they learnt from these experiences. It may just help you to choose the best consultant for your needs!

Author: Todays post is by Chris Gandy MAPS, the Founder and Principal of Cause and Effective (www.causeandeffective.info) a group utilising their knowledge and experience to assist cause-based organisations to achieve even greater social impacts. You can now follow Chris on Twitter. We also invite you to be our guest on B-Cause – our guidelines are here.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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