Does Experience Matter?

February 2nd, 2008 by Bob Bly

In an article in the Daily News (1/31/08) about the presidential race, Robert Dallek writes: “Obama’s lack of experience shouldn’t be a liability … judgment trumps experience, almost every time.”

But wait a minute. When you vote for a political candidate … or hire a new employee … or select a vendor to provide printing, Web design, or other services … don’t you look for someone with long experience in her field?

I know I do. I mean, if you needed brain surgery, who would you prefer — the doctor who had performed 1,000 successful operations or the resident doing his very first brain operation ever?

Today, the world seems not to value experience to the degree it did in the late 1970s, when I started out in the business world.

Back then, gray hairs were respected and viewed as having superior knowledge accumulated during decades of experience in the industry. Young managers like me in our 20′s were viewed as green behind the ears and fairly useless until we got a year or two of experience under our belts.

Today, now that I have gray haired, experience and age are NOT valued; youth is. Older workers are routinely discriminated against in the hiring process. Youth is worshipped in a tech society where a 20-something became a billionaire by inventing Facebook, something many people in my generation have never even seen, let alone comprehend.

In my experience, experience doesn’t count the way it once did. But that’s my opinion. What’s your experience?

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This entry was posted on Saturday, February 2nd, 2008 at 3:02 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 responses about “Does Experience Matter?”

  1. Joel Heffner said:

    I wonder if what you say applies to bosses…or just workers. Do CEOs always have experience in their company’s core product(s) or service(s)? As for political candidates for president, they also have the luxury of hiring the best minds in given fields. Maybe in politics what we really need is better judgement for the next 4 (or 8) years.

  2. Mke Smock said:

    Hi Bob,

    I position my firm as “experienced campaigners”. Anybody can can put up a blog, create or steal a little content and be in business these days. It cracks me up how many anonymous comments are left on marketing blogs and how many “About” sections on agency web sites are empty due to their lack of experience. Anybody can have an opinion about copy, design, strategy, etc. I think the internet has really lowered the curve when it comes to both creativity and execution. Way too much noise these days – not nearly enough signal.

  3. Bob Bly said:

    Joel: there is a problem with your premise that judgment trumps experience in a CEO because she can just hire the best minds in the field: how can she evaluate whether the advice these advisors give her is any good? She lacks the experience and knowledge, which leaves her wholly dependent on others — even at their mercy. By contrast, if you know as much or more than your advisors, you can manage and direct them with greater authority and confidence.

  4. Joel Heffner said:

    Bob…actually I agree with you. I was thinking about Apple, Inc. when they hired the former head of Pepsi to run their company…almost into the ground. It was only when Steve Jobs came back that the company sky rocketed. I was just pointing out that many companies seem to do that kind of hiring. Personally, I want people who have a track record who know what they are talking about.

  5. Sante said:

    Experience is a vital asset in our society, although the trend is to disregard it as such. But then this society is one where people bend backwards for their cats and dogs, only to abandon fathers and mothers in old folks homes …

    I think experience must not be confuse with good old down to earth wisdom – I think that’s what this day and age is really missing – common sense that I was taught as a kid, things like the real value of money, the important things in life that I cherish so very much every evening when I sit at the dinner table with my 2 boys and wife Mary that has been with me for 23 years.

    There you go you go be sounding like granpa simpson. Actually I’m (only) 46.

    PS – the CAPTCHA is really hard to read – I’d make it a bit easier to qualify my readers as folks wanting to leave a comment.

  6. Kelja said:

    Experience doesn’t always translate into better leadership, but most of us, when the chips are down, would prefer a leader with experience to one without. My Opinion.

  7. Jodi Kaplan said:

    Yes, experience is important in a brain surgeon or a pilot. However, I think that President of the United States is a unique job, with unique pressures (which is why they all age so quickly). Being a Senator, a governor, the director of a large agency, or even Vice President, don’t seem to be reliable indicators of how well someone does as President. George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter (trying to be non-partisan!) both had strong resumes, but neither one had a very successful presidency.

  8. Craig Hysell said:

    I play rugby. Experience helps get guys past the shell shock of other people wanting to stomp their guts out and lets them learn to operate in a realm where pain and danger are immediate.
    Every now and then we’ll get a rookie who simply has a nose for the ball, a natural. He gets more playing time because he adapts quicker and therefore becomes a larger asset to the success of the team. Because he is a natural he is given more time to learn through experience.
    Experience makes a veteran. Natural ability, the humility to listen and that inherent daring to innovate, create a stand out player; all things you can know about a person as soon as you see them practice.
    Our rugby captains are all experienced, but you could tell they were leaders from day one. It has to be combination if it’s to be truly successful.

  9. Dianna Huff said:

    I agree with Craig. You need experience coupled with the ability to listen and learn. I don’t think that all this new social media stuff is applicable to B2B (I’m thinking of Twitter here), but I do watch how these things are being applied and used. My customers ask about them, I need to give them good answers and not just answer with, “Oh that stuff is for 20-somethings with nothing better to do with their time.”

  10. Julie, writer surefirewealth.com said:

    Didn’t Obama find a way around that part? In another blog, I read that he supposedly acknowledge Clinton’s experience, yes. But he also reportedly said that it was more important to be right on the first day than to be experienced on the first day. Way to go Obama!

  11. Bob Bly said:

    Dianna: I am pretty much where you are. I don;t know how important this new social media stuff will be in B2B. But I am getting educated on all of it so I can discuss it intelligently and not dismiss it out of hand (to be frank, I did the same things with SEO and blogging).

  12. Sanjeev Roy said:

    Experience and/or age is seen as = rigidity, inability to learn new things, less energy AND more expensive. Hence, this great love for the young. I have a feeling this is a cyclical thing and the world will soon get back to valuing experience properly. Sometimes, I feel, particularly in my country (India), where the demographics are crazily skewed towards the less than 25 lot, it is the sheer pressure of youth that undermines experience. Not sure how this is connected but you may wish to read – http://www.bullzi-inc.com/fables_stories/07022008/learning-has-nothing-to-do-with-age/

  13. Ali Manson said:

    Although I currently reside in Great Britain, where voter apathy is at an all time high, I’ve been watching the current candidacy campaign with great interest.

    The experience/knowledge battle is as old as time itself, and one which I reckon there is no correct answer to.

    Back when I was a newbie (some may still class me as a newbie, having only been in the freelance game for a couple of years) my first job was worth $5,000 to me. So I was still able to command a decent fee even though I did not have the “experience” that the client may have desired before shelling out for the work.

    Experience is beneficial, but not always necessary.

    I mean, if people always plumped for the experienced over the first-timer, each and every industry would be a total mess when the experienced people retired/moved on/died because the fresh-faced would have had absolutely no way of getting experience.

    That coupled with the fact that there are simply not enough experienced practitioners in every field to comfortably deal with the workload required means experience will NEVER be the deciding factor when choosing who to go with.

    Every situation should be judged on merit wherever possible. That is the only way to truly see who is the right person for the task at hand…

    PS – Obama for President. All the way…

  14. John Lockwood said:

    Interesting post. I don’t know that young people are as in demand as you say — there may be an element of “grass is greener” here. I know when I was young I struggled quite a bit.

    As for me, I keep myself young by changing careers every five to ten years, such that 40% of the time I’m completely stupid about whatever field I’m working in. :)

    I do think the current Web 2.0 trend goes firmly in the direction of anything goes, and let’s-all-participate-on-MyFace (and wherever else) for free, and therefore against the direction of professionalism and creating value. So I’m a luddite in some respects.

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