When Experience Is No Longer Relevant

I was listening to a radio show on NPR the other morning, and the debate was around the “Sharing Economy,” which is disrupting the way consumers purchase certain services. Uber and Airbnb are two major players in this new way of selling to consumers.

In case you’re not familiar, Uber is a car service company that connects riders with drivers, who range from experienced cabbies to stay-at-home dads looking to make some extra cash. You use a mobile phone app to request the nearest “Uber driver,” and usually within 5 minutes there is one in front of your door to take you to your destination. The app is linked to your credit card so there is no exchange of cash, and tip and taxes are included.

Airbnb has a similar model in that it links travelers to residences. Going on a trip for 2 weeks and want to rent out your apartment to make some extra cash? Post your place on Airbnb and a traveler can find you using their app/website.

The debate around these companies right now is that they are circumventing the highly regulated industries they are touching. City taxi cabs are under strict state and local regulations. Cities are trying to find how Uber fits into the rules. Some people argue Airbnb should be taxed the same way hotels are taxed.

On this radio show, they spoke about how cities are approaching these new entrants. They spoke of panels made up of people who had decades of experience in each respective industry. It got me thinking about the value of all that experience in an era where the old rules don’t apply anymore. That “experience” comes from a time that is completely irrelevant to the current situation.

I’m not discounting the importance of experience, especially in fields where practicing a particular skill is absolutely necessary. And of course, there are softer skills where experience is the only way to get better, like managing people or managing up.

However, in industries and fields where the rules are now changing due to technology or consumer demands, is hiring someone with tons of experience in those areas better than someone with a fresh perspective who might be more open to the innovation taking place?

It’s an important thing to consider. When I worked for a consulting firm that helped leaders tackle challenges that didn’t have clear cut solutions, we brought their teams in and facilitated intense brainstorming sessions. These were people who were really close to the problems, and they were their own worst enemy because they weren’t willing to let go of the current state of being and open themselves up to a new way of being.  Their “experience” was preventing them from seeing the possibility of what could be because they were caught up with what didn’t work in the past.

I think this applies to how you shape your team if you’re faced with challenges of innovation. Are the people who have the most “experience” holding the team back? Or maybe it’s necessary to have a combination of experienced and new team members. It comes down to what you’re hoping to achieve, and sometimes a fresh perspective, rather than an experienced perspective, can help you get there.

Lexi Gordon is a Lead Consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way. 

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