Saturday, 26 January 2013

Experience does not make you good by default

A "seasoned campaigner" is usually considered more capable than someone with just two or three years of experience, be it in a profession or a skill (like driving).

In any given context, experience is the cumulation of a certain type of situation that a person has faced.  It is supposed to make the person more proficient, because each experience provides their brain with a slightly different permutation to solve or deal with.  An experienced person has familiarity with more permutations than one who is less experienced, so they should be better equipped to deal with a wider range of issues when they come up.  They need less on the job training and will therefore be able to produce faster, more effective results.  In theory, anyway.

Yet if an experience doesn't bring an improvement to your ability, then any number of years' worth of it means little.  Take driving: once you have your license it means you've been certified to drive in public, that you meet a standard of proficiency.  You will seldom find a licensed driver conceding that someone else with the same license drives better than they can.  Because we all have the same certification and most have been doing it for a decent length of time, we all believe we're equal drivers.  But in reality you know very well that some licensed drivers will give you the jerkiest commute as they tailgate and brake late at every traffic light, while others (like myself) will provide you with the automotive equivalent of a magic carpet ride.  Someone that's driven for three years can be a safer, smoother driver than a person that's been at it for thirty years.

The habits you develop early on in driving - I'd say in the first six months - perpetuate and accentuate themselves over the rest of your life on the road.  I've seen it with personal acquaintances: the same bad habits they had in their first year of driving still exist ten years later.  Habit is the operative word.

It's exactly the same with most professions and jobs.  Once someone is formally qualified/certified and has done their job for a few years without serious reprimand or hiccups, they usually continue with their rhythm and don't change the way they do things - there's little improvement over the years.  The difference between two years of doing something and ten years of doing the same thing often ranges from little to nothing.  The initial habit you create when your first learn or do something is crucial.  And if you have a bad habit, only a conscious decision to change it will see you improve.  All time does is perpetuate your habits: good and bad.

The assumption that an experienced candidate is stronger is therefore something that needs to be scrutinized and challenged.  Experience needs to be just one facet that gets looked at when trying to measure a person's ability.  Their propensity to learn and grasp of the fundamentals has to be taken into account too.

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