The Experience Trap and How to Get Over It

Being knowledgeable in your field and the senior executive that holds all the answers is bad for your mental health. You think you already know how the dynamic happen, you’ve seen it all and done it all before, you think you can advise others and people need that advice. You are wrong. In fact, you are so wrong, that your approach is causing you to lose business and stop developing. Unless you are offering a specialist design or engineering service, advising and mentoring from an expert position is a very dangerous business.

The moment you step into an external consultant position and away from working inside a team, you become absorbed into what you know not how to learn from others. You get paid to apply the skills that you developed before and do what you did before. You provide a service based on how you did it previously, sometimes making just minor changes from another client or job and resending. Or, even worse, making minor adaptations from an internet search to meet the proposal requirements. In essence, you aim to deliver what the client thinks they want.

You are in the trap of too much knowledge and experience. Reusing what you know is making you outdated. Over time, you will be so out of touch with your market, you’ll start complaining that the youngsters in the industry have no idea how to do things properly. Later, you’ll be complaining that budgets are cut and consultancy work is drying up, or you will sit in your job until a restructure happens to bring the worst kind of news for you.

Getting over the trap gained from experience is critical to every senior manager in their career. The moment you feel you know your field so well that you don’t need to continue learning new trends and development is the moment you start your slow decline. Psychologists report on the depression of those late in their careers while the media comment on the difficulty of being hired when you’re over the age of forty. While experience offers a fantastic perspective and knowledge, without a direction to innovation and future opportunities, it counts for little more than a catalogue of historical events in your chosen industry.

Purposefully maintaining a space in your mental approach for learning is the only way to avoid the entrapments of the seasoned mind. Adopting curiosity towards the opinions of younger professionals rather than a critical judgment of their contribution will position you to receive and learn about changes as they happen. Learn how to collaborate with these new ideas and to enrich them rather than replace them with your experience.

Reverse mentoring is a wonderful approach to achieving an equal balance of contributions to new ideas. It involves valuing the opinions of a younger professional and participating in an exchange with your own. A well-matched mentor and mentoree relationship is both stimulating and deeply rewarding to both sides, an equally beneficial meeting of minds.

It’s easy to dismiss new jargon and models as a rehash of what you know but developments and adaptations happen for a reason, acknowledging this and understanding the benefits will help you stay on top of your game.

It’s also easy to drift away from your career as life happens, be it raising a family or dealing with private challenges. With the abundance of free university courses and resources available online, it takes very little effort to periodically reacquaint yourself with your special area. Re-subscribing to industry press and following new emerging thought-leaders will also help you recognise when you’ve let your knowledge drift.

There is never a time that you will ever know all there is to know about your industry and work. The moment that thought happens is the moment you put yourself at risk of stagnation. The more gradual your own learning process is with regards to knowing and applying the changes that are happening in your field, the easier it is to combine it with your experience to create innovative ideas and offer your solutions as a unique leading edge. This approach is what is required to bring your experience as a benefit to your clients rather than an expiring method that was the pattern of attracting new business in the past.

So much intelligence and knowledge is lost by those that fail to understand the value of new information and forget to continue learning. Adopt purposeful learning as a strategy to avoid the trap of thinking you have too much experience. Use the process to bring wisdom to your business and benefit to all those whom you impact.