Experience vs. Inexperience

Experience vs. Inexperience  
When I was a young lad…No, I am not going to start this week’s blog like that!  But we all have similar stories.  No matter how far we have gotten in life, we all have experiences that shape and affect who we are today.  Some of us have had great experiences, some not so great.  Some of us have had some traumatic experiences and some of us have not.  I also have found that some people define themselves by their experiences and tend to live in the past because of this.  Does experience get in your way?  If so, what steps can you take to not let your experiences define who you are?  
In the military, experience is everything.  In life threatening situations and high stress, people with experience tend to perform better than those with less experience.  That is why we hold experience in such high regard. I suspect that this also applies to jobs in the civilian sector.  Experience is something to be proud of.  However, I also believe that experience can weigh a person down, especially when new and innovative solutions present themselves that challenge and even counter one’s experience.  
Our Brain and Experience
The power of our brains never ceases to amaze me.  When we gain experience through training, our brains actually change.  The neurological pathways become more efficient after repetition or training.  That is why when we first learn to drive, we must concentrate a lot more then when we have been driving for 30 years.  A substance known as myelin coats the axons of our neurons and provides for a much faster pathway for our thoughts to travel.  Our experiences and training help us to become more effective, especially during high stress situations.  In the military and high risk arenas, we call this “muscle memory”, where the muscle we are really talking about is our brain.  
Our Brain and Inexperience
In a study of firefighters, individuals with low experience out performed individuals of higher experience with mundane or boring tasks.  Why?  The inexperienced firefighters were hungry to learn new things, and were not as set in there ways as the experienced firefighters.  After training countless individuals in resilience around the world from Oil Rig Workers to Prison Inmates, I find this to be true across the board.  Individuals with less experience typically tend to have a better attitude when learning new things because they do not have the experiences that get in their way.  In a low stress situations, inexperience beats experience in performance.
Knowing the Difference
Knowledge is power.  Knowing the difference between a high stress situation and a low stress situation is the key.  If you know that you are in a high stress situation, rely on your experience and training to get you through.  If, however, you find yourself in a lower stress situation, it may be time to open your brain to new possibilities and let your experience take a rest.  Unfortunately, many individuals think that they know best because they have been around the block a time or two. Opening yourself up to a new way of doing things, when the time is right, is a great way to improve your performance, and improve the quality of your brain as well.
Let’s make things simple.  Whether you have lots of experience or none at all, take this week with a grain of salt.  Open up your mind to new possibilities, and try and understand that the world is not all homogeneous, meaning that the solution that you think works does not work all the time to all the people.  That’s the first thing.  Second, do a self analysis of yourself and gauge whether or not you have experience in a particular activity that you are doing.  This could be at work but also can be something you do at home or a leisure activity.  For example, I recently took up fishing and have very minimal experience.  My brain is a sponge and I learn from everyone.  If you have little experience, then remember to learn all you can about the subject you are studying, especially from those that have more experience.  However, also know that perhaps there are new ways of doing things and you are going to have to find them on your own.  Don’t solely rely on the experience of others, although that is a great starting point.  

Now, if you find yourself on the experience side of the equation, you may be in for a challenge.  Look to those less experienced than you are as an opportunity to learn something new and perhaps even change the way you do business.  I’m not saying that your experience does not matter.  What I am saying is that if you solely rely on your experience, your brain will become calcified and you will never learn anything new, even if you have been doing something for a long, long time.  As you can see, the experience side of the equation is very challenging, because we are all “set in our ways” to a certain extent.  
Lastly, we need to recognize the difference between stress and non-stress situations.  A stressful situation always defers to experience.  When high stress manifests itself, it is not the time to have a brain storming session with innovative solutions to solve a problem.  Sometimes innovative solutions will happen during high stress situations, but research suggests that those with the experience have the advantage in these situations.  Conversely, when the stress is over, we need to listen to inexperience because they are the innovators of the future and have a fresh, often unbiased approach to solving problems.

“Lean into it!”
Dr. N