Experience is Not Good Enough

The adage, “Some things you just learn with time” is true, but the person with the most experience is not always the best candidate for the next project. I care more about a diverse skill set and creativity than I do about experience. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Experience can be used as a crutch. You’ve heard people say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Or, “It must be right; it’s worked before.” If you want to do something creative, the old way of doing things is likely not the answer.
  2. The best candidate is the one who has spent the most time diversifying their skill set and asking the most questions. Chance has it that the person who has been a copy editor their whole life is probably an incredible copy editor. I’m sure they can take me to task on The Chicago Manual of Style trivia. I will likely contract them for my next copy editing job, but I’m not going to ask them to lead the next project. Why? They’re likely to treat it like everything they’ve done before.
  3. I want to spend time with people who like to do crazy stuff. Why? I want to innovate. (In fact, it’s one of my life goals.) I need people who will say: “It’s just crazy enough that we should do it.” Boldness matters.
  4. Experience often beats the edginess out of you. One of my other life goals is to be edgy. It’s not that I love controversy, or creating chaos, it’s that I don’t think “normal” is normal. As Thoreau says, “I went to the wood because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Most people are not deliberate in their pursuit to change the world. Sure, everyone would like to make the world better, but few accept that making people frustrated is part of doing that. If the world is going to change, powers will have to be upset. Making significant change means that some people will call you controversial.
  5. I want to work with people who rely on what they can accomplish, not people who rely on what they have accomplished. Experience often convinces us that we’re good enough. I plan to go to the grave believing I’m not good enough—that I can be better. I never want to rely on what I’ve done. Instead, I want to believe in what I can do. As Dylan Thomas said, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Celebrate accomplishments; don’t use them as a crutch.

Experience is not good enough.

Are you relying too much on experience? What suggestions do you have for focusing on what you can do, rather than what you have done?

2 Responses to “Experience is Not Good Enough”

  1. Eli Evans February 28, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    “Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, / And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, / Do not go gentle into that good night.”

    Are you relying too much on inexperience? What suggestions do you have for focusing on bringing peace and harmony into the world, rather than being “edgy” as an end to itself?

    • John D. Barry March 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

      Eli, thanks for your comment. Being edgy certainly isn’t an end to itself. We need real change: things aren’t good enough as they are. To make the world better, we need people who are willing to say what others are too afraid to say. Those type of people will naturally be met with opposition and be called “edgy,” or “controversial.”


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