What I learned about Experience from a Table Tennis Expert!

KPL001 blog

I have always argued that Experience Matters, but until recently this was more subjective than objective and in a world of business decision making, why should experience outweigh other traits?

In his book  called “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practise”,  Matthew Syed postulates that to become an “Expert” in sport and other areas of human endeavour an individual needs to spend ten years – approximately ten thousand hours, practising his chosen specialist area, and only then can the individual become expert. He supports this viewpoint citing his own experience in the world of top class table tennis, and by investigating the basis of many other world class athletes and their career development. In all cases their expert status is shown to be the result of 10 years of practise together with availability of resources that enabled effective practise to drive results.

Now you don’t have to look very far in a search for business experts, they appear in abundance, but as one of my sales managers advised me many years ago, the definition of an ex-spurt, is that of a ‘has been - drip under pressure’. I am therefore not sure that having expert status is a particularly good defining trait for a business person.

The problem is that most businesses need expertise that is not available within the business, to fix issues that arise, even if they don’t realise it! This need is easily identified where for example an IT issue or an HR problem arises, but it is much more difficult where an issue of strategy or management or leadership exists.

The other key component that Matthew Syed identified is that the practise needed to achieve expert status needs to be effective and stimulating.

Simply going through the motions, of putting in hours, will not result in championship expert status! 

As an interim manager, all too often I have operated in organisations where people are doing things the way they have always been done, getting by doing the minimum necessary to keep the status quo.

With no political axe to worry about and a clearly focussed and defined goal in mind it is relatively easy for the interim to enter a business and deliver  new and innovative results in a comparatively short time period, but these results are not just luck! They happen as a result of a process, a methodology that has been developed over a long period of time and often practised repeatedly in a very highly charged environment.

There is simply no way to magically inject staff with that vital ingredient of experience, but there are ways to increase the rate at which they can obtain that know how, and generate a kick start to exposing them to different experience. Interim managers operate in different organisations and have most likely held successful careers in businesses that have similar characteristics and problems to those faced by your operation. Career Interim managers have skills and the experience to hit the ground running and to make an immediate impact on the business issue faced by your operation.

Their experience is most likely gained over a lifetime of practising and the benefits of expert advice, expert know how, about what works and what doesn’t, together with honed skills are available for the asking.  

I approached this ‘Myth of Talent and the Power of Practise’ with some scepticism. Surely the individual needs some special skills, or innate inbuilt competencies before expert status could be achieved even after a long practise period? While it is true that a base skill is needed, Syed builds a compelling argument and it triggered me to think about the difference between standard and ‘expert’ in a business context.

So what can an expert offer to businesses, and why should it matter? It really depends on what you define as an expert, someone with solid track record and extensive experience probably developed in large and small organisations over a period of 20 years – approximately 30000hours before entering into a career interim role for 10 years operating at senior level extending themselves in different directions and simply by being placed in stressful situations gaining valuable experience of working in different ways.

I think that would fall into the category of Syed’s definition of expert as well as that of Interim Manager.

What do you think?

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