It was a cruel joke form the times of Re-engineering. ‘Here it goes Joe’, started the joke. Then the quote: not 20 years of experience, but one year of…
Cruel as real. No matter how hard and uncomfortable it may be, the name of the game is reinvention. I used to think that I was pushing this envelope too much, too far. I used to be challenged by people in manufacturing running efficacious repetitive process; by other successful leaders in financial institutions and pharmaceuticals saying’ we can’t be too creative; we are regulated’; by sensible clients saying ‘we don’t want to reinvent the wheel’. I used to be told that I seemed to preach change for the sake of it. And I did retreat a bit.
However, as I grow up (it was my birthday yesterday, fast to adolescence now), I am becoming more radical. Radical, from ‘root’ in Latin. Not radical as in blind contrarian. I think the Battle is one of ‘New Ideas in Action’. The late nineties ‘Learning Organization’ is not dead. What it has changed is the way of Learning. The most urgent learning task today is unlearning. It is Dee Hock’s old visionary quote: ‘The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out’.
People ‘with experience’ are still needed, big time. But show me ‘people with experience who can unlearn fast’, or people ‘who can question the experience’, or people hired for their experience who are prepared to shake up the experience, to the extent of, if needed, leaving the experience at the door. Then I am OK with the experience. Sure. If you want to fly a plane, you need pilots with a licence. But if this is where your thinking stops, I fear for you.
I rate good leadership by the amount of spontaneous, verbal reference to previous experience. Inverse correlation, that is. When somebody shoots ‘when I was in X, we did’ or ‘when I was in Y that happened’ at a suspiciously frequent rate per minute, I feel I am listening to personal War Stories, which may provide some comfort, but leave me restless and unsure about the future.
Maybe the wheel needs to be reinvented a little bit. How about 2015, the year of the Reinvention of Wheels? Radical new management need, err, experienced radicals.
PS. Reinventing the wheel is painful when you have a garage full of wheels. I make the point of starting any public or in-company presentation from scratch all the time. Sure, I recycle old slides, but never copy an old presentation and re-name. It’s personal. I could not bear the repetition. And I get god wheels out most of the time.