The new guy gets little respect. He’s given the jobs no one else wants, and is clearly the low man on the totem pole. He’s not always valued, after all … what does he know? He’s new.
But new has qualities that experience does not bring, says Roger L. Beahm, professor of marketing at Wake Forest University and executive director of the school’s Center for Retail Innovation: “Experience is like having a larger rear view mirror that lets you look further back in the past,” he says. “We tend to think the past can provide a vision into the future but the past is not a good predictor. In fact, if you want innovation, it’s the dead opposite.”
Instead of defaulting to the most experienced person in a company, leadership should welcome the opinions of the inexperienced. “They’ve earned that right; you’ve screened them or brought them in,” says Beahm. “Don’t reject their offhand ideas without allowing them a chance to express their thinking.”
Here are four reasons why inexperience can be an advantage:
Someone with experience can become too close to a project and develop tunnel vision, says Beahm. Ideas or opinions from an inexperienced source, however, can be a much-needed cure to this myopia as they can provide a reality check for those who have lost perspective.
“An inexperienced person can see the periphery and what may be lurking on the outside that’s potentially negative,” he says.
While experience is valuable, it poses a potential risk because it may lead a person to believe that certain things will only work in a certain way, says Beahm. Focus groups are a good example of the value of inexperience; they provide important feedback from people who aren’t close to the subject matter.
“Tapping the marketplace for inexperience can become a great source of information and innovation,” he says. “Someone with little experience isn’t predisposed to a way of thinking. We sometimes tend to be short-term thinkers in the day-to-day execution of an idea. People who can bring an objective view are very valuable.”
Great ideas are rare in a business world that strives for innovation whether you’re a grizzled veteran or rookie, but an inexperienced person is a strong asset when you’re looking for a revolutionary idea.
“Inexperienced people are great at thinking outside the box,” says Beahm. “The suggestion of an inexperienced person may be rough or need smoothing out, but oftentimes, you can really find a useful nugget.”
Beahm says revolutionary new ideas tend to be younger ideas: “People who have less experience are the ones you want around you to challenge to move forward,” he says. “Experience often brings conservatism.”
What’s worked in the past doesn’t always work in the future, and those with experience tend to have biases.
“In retail, once a gimmick has been used successfully, it will likely be copied but rarely will it yield the same results again,” says Beahm. Inexperience can help people recognize that tomorrow is different; what worked 10 years ago won’t work 10 years from today, and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.
“Ideas are like flowers; they’re fresh in the morning and wilt by the afternoon,” says Beahm. “You can’t count on experience to sustain what will happen next.”