10 years of experience or 1 plus 9 of the same thing?
3 years after graduating from college I accepted a position as a Design Engineer with a company that built custom HVAC equipment. I had been invited by an Engineering Manager who had also just joined the company but had many years of experience in the industry.
In our first staff meeting he began talking about changes in the department. He spoke of creating design standards and changing the way we did things towards a more structured approach that would foster continuous learning and improvement. Half way through his speech one of the guys that had been there for a long time interrupted him and began to say “In my 10 years of experience…”, and that was really as far as he got before he was interrupted and harshly told “Jack (let’s just call him that), before you continue, let’s get this straight: You have one year of experience and then just 9 more doing the same thing. At some point you’ll learn the difference”. Uncomfortable silence followed and the meeting continued.
It was a truly unforgiving statement but with a lot of truth in it. Forcing ourselves to learn continually is hard and we tend to gravitate towards our comfort zone.
In his book Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin mentions Noel Tichy’s illustration of concentric learning circles. Tichy, former chief of GE’s Crotonville management development center, labels the inner circle the “comfort zone,” the middle circle the “learning zone,” and the outer one the “panic zone.” It is well documented that we acquire knowledge and experience by developing activities in the learning zone, but this is only one part of the equation.
Consider every lesson, every interaction, every position and every experience as a building block of your potential. High performers build on solid foundations that allow them to focus on elements that average performers don’t even consider or notice. They begin to make decisions and execute at a higher level.
Consider the analogy of learning to play hockey. You need to start by knowing how to skate. Understand the objective of the game, the rules and the broad strategy. As you keep learning you start to develop speed and instinct that allow you to react at a high speed and at some point, at a high level, predict. If any of us mortals is placed in front of a hockey goal and we are asked to block a shot, it’s very likely that we will focus on the puck. A professional will be looking at the shooter’s eyes, shoulders and hip movements. He will know where the puck is going the moment it is touched by the stick.
These same principals apply to business. To achieve a certain level in an organization or as a business owner you need to know where you want to go, how you need to “build yourself”, understand the building blocks and most importantly take continuous and persistent steps towards getting it done.
I’ll make an emphasis on continuous and persistent because it does not happen overnight. In fact, it will not happen over a few years. Studies have shown that people on top of their game have been focused on it for more than a decade.
If you are not paying attention and not working towards a firm goal, by the time you realize it, you may find yourself with scattered building blocks of knowledge and experience that are no where close to being aligned to where you wanted to be.
Jose Ruiz is a Principal in Heidrick & Struggles’ Monterrey office and is a member of the global Industrial practice and specializes in recruiting in Mexico for US companies with a strong focus on bilingual and bicultural candidates.
Heidrick & Struggles International, Inc., (Nasdaq:HSII) is the leadership advisory firm providing senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services, including succession planning, executive assessment and development, talent retention management, transition consulting for newly appointed executives, and M&A human capital integration consulting. For almost 60 years, we have focused on quality service and built strong leadership teams through our relationships with clients and individuals worldwide. Today, Heidrick & Struggles’ leadership experts operate from principal business centers in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific. For more information about Heidrick & Struggles, please visit www.heidrick.com