The Wisdom of Inexperience


cf0751aae6100169bc10480583271e9dFilm: Meet the Robinsons

Release Date: March 30, 2007

Situation: After Lewis’s brain scanner causes chaos at the science fair (which he thinks is his fault but is actually due to sabotage), he decides to give up inventing forever.  Wilbur, a mysterious kid about Lewis’s age, shows up claiming to be from the future and tells Lewis to go back to the science fair and repair his project.  Lewis only agrees to fix his machine if Wilbur can prove he’s from the future.  Using his time machine, Wilbur takes Lewis roughly 20 years into the future to see all the marvelous wonders of Todayland (clever Disney… very clever).  However, instead of agreeing to fix the brain scanner, Lewis decides he will just use the time machine to complete his ultimate goal: to see his mother on the day she left him as a baby at the orphanage so that he can try to find her.  The two boys begin to fight over the controls of the flying time machine, arguing who is right based on their age.

LEWIS:  Let go!
WILBUR:  You let go!
LEWIS:  You’re not the boss of me!
WILBUR:  Yes I am!  ‘Cause you’re 12, and I’m 13.  That makes me older!
LEWIS:  Well, I was born in the past, which makes ME older and the boss of YOU!

The fight ends the tweens accidentally breaking the steering wheel, resulting in a crash that severely damages the time machine (but not the boys).

Leadership Lesson: Age and experience don’t always make us right.

At one point or another during our adolescent years, we all had someone say to us, “I’m your elder, so (show some respect / I’m right / I’ll be making the decisions / etc).”  I think it’s safe to say that we hated hearing that.  What some of us hated even more was hearing those same words escape our mouths years later.

No matter how much we hated hearing it from others or ourselves, there is truth in those words.  Both age and experience deserve a  certain amount of respect as neither comes without a price.  However, the experience we gain will never make us the expert in everything.  We will always have a limited scope that is determined by the circumstances under which our experience was gained.  A classroom trainer of 20 years will know a lot about engagement and classroom management, but may be lacking in knowledge about what is necessary for a successful webinar or e-learning.  An IT specialist working with PC hardware will be a wiz fixing your computer tower, but might not be much help with questions about cloud storage or developing phone/tablet apps.

At least for the foreseeable future, live presentation training and computer hardware aren’t going anywhere and we will need experts to provide knowledge in these areas based on years of practice.  But, if we are to move our teams and industries forward, we need to keep ourselves open to the ideas and contributions of others who haven’t been around as long, whether they be newer to the company or newer to the planet.

Most of us have probably dealt with “New Guy/Gal” complex at some point in our careers.  We recently joined a company/team and are made to feel that we need to learn the ropes before we can really contribute anything.  This complex can be imposed by the more seasoned people around us, or it can be self-imposed.  We feel that we can’t add value until we’ve been around longer, and we need to observe and do as we’re told until that magical day that we’ve been around long enough to bring our ideas to the table.

Sometimes, however, the best ideas can come from those with the least experience.  A fresh perspective isn’t limited by “what we’ve always done,” or “what worked okay before.”  These newer team members can think outside the box because they haven’t been put inside of it yet.  This is a huge opportunity for innovation and to advance our teams (and potentially our industries) into the future.  Let’s look at a couple of examples of how this could work.

Let’s say that we are the manager of a training team who was recently tasked to find a way to teach a new procedure to the entire company in the fastest possible way with little-to-no disruption to daily operations.  At this time, 95% of all of the training done in the company is in the classroom while the other 5% are generic e-learnings on subjects such as sexual harassment and workplace diversity.  We determine that we need 1 hour of training time with each associate, and we have 3 classrooms available that hold 20 people each, so we can potentially train 60 associates per hour.  However, with the current volume of business, it’s not feasible to lose 60 associates all at once, and budgets won’t allow for enough overtime to have people come in early or stay late.  Laura recently joined our team as a training assistant, fresh out of college.  In one of her college courses, Laura learned about microlearning and shares with the team that the material could be separated into six 10 minute segments that could be delivered via prerecorded videos and presentations.  This would allow employees to only be away from their duties for 10 minutes at a time, and could be scheduled to be completed at their desks at any time of day.  Although she is young and doesn’t have much training experience yet, Laura has provided us with an alternative that we had not thought of because of our limited scope.

Let’s do one more.  In this scenario, we are a Sales Manager for a magazine subscription service.  Sales are down, even though we’ve pushed incentives for employees and even worked out some great discounts on popular titles for customers.  In a meeting with our supervisor team to figure out what we can do better, Randy states he has an idea that might work.  Randy has several years of sales experience on his resume in other industries, but this is his first supervisory position and he’s only been with our company a few weeks.  His suggestion is to change the approach of selling: rather than starting with the popular titles right away, have associates talk to the customer about their interests in order to offer titles that would be important to them specifically.  Even though it doesn’t match what we’ve always done before, Randy is able to offer strategies he learned from previous employers and show us how they can be adapted to work for our business.

As we can see, there can be value in both experience and the lack thereof.  Our challenge as leaders, then, is to discern which wisdom will work best in the current situation: hindsight, or foresight.


“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long.  We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

– Walt Disney


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