20 Years of Experience

It used to bother me when employees with 20 years of experience were referred to as people with 2 years of experience ten times. I thought experience mattered – and it does – only not in the way that I thought. I now appreciate that in most professions breadth of experience matters more. I concede that I would like my brain surgeon to have many years of experience and that maybe a violinist needs years of practice but in business, and particularly in the high tech segment, breadth matters more than years.

I believe that a breadth of experience gap is at the heart of corporate underperformance. The acceleration of everything, which I wrote about in my first Canadian Electronics blog, makes many high tech executives’ judgement too narrow to form an appropriate corporate strategy. They may understand short-term P&L management but they fall far short of having the breadth of vision to prepare their companies for what is coming. I see this as a root cause of low long-term corporate productivity and a barrier to true business innovation.

Many companies have programs that rotate employees through various functions to give them a range of experience; I applaud these efforts. I once worked for a General Manager whose opinion I respect immensely. He stated that to be a General Manager one needed experience in three of the four disciplines of Technology, Operations, Sales and Marketing or Finance. It would be best if this experience came from different companies; maybe even different industries. I think even this is not enough. The foundation of our experience needs to be acceleration of everything proof. Such a foundation probably does not exist but one based on an education in science and technology may be the closest surrogate.

In the high technology electronics industry, I believe that designers, because of their education, are in the best position to address this leadership challenge. Leaders need to understand how their company’s products and technology will stand up against technology challenges from alternatives enabled by the acceleration of everything. A designer’s knowledge of underlying technologies gives them an upper hand in putting what’s coming into context but their big left brains may block necessary important intuitive leaps; in the words of The Royal Canadian Air Farce, “They are too far into their left brain to be in their right mind.” Designers with a desire to lead need experience outside of their technology umbrella and must learn to trust their gut. A designer’s strength is making decisions based on data; intuition is also based on data, just not the hard kind one is used to. Find data to support your gut’s conclusion.

We are fortunate that leaders do emerge with the right mix of skills and vision to grow or create new businesses, even industries, but many leaders often get in the way. There is a tendency to play it safe and avoid risk. In an acceleration of everything world playing it safe is often the most risky strategy but, because of our nature, risk avoidance is too often an acceptable one.

Throughout my business career, I have seen many decisions made that, with the advantage of hindsight, were the wrong ones. I see the same things happening today in many companies. The unfortunate reality is that the outcomes are often knowable at the time these innovation and productivity killing decisions are made. Central to these bad decisions are the common themes of comfort with and protection of the status quo, short-term knowable gain traded against long-term high return uncertainty and a lack of imagination about how the acceleration of everything will change their world.

By Ken Bradley – Lytica Inc. Founder/Chairman/CTO

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