While years of experience is often listed at the top of job posting qualifications, leadership expert Liz Wiseman, president of The Wiseman Group, says the best candidates may be those with the least amount of expertise under their belt. In her new book Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, Wiseman argues thatexperience can be a curse; while being the new kid on the block can be a valuable asset.
Wiseman is speaking from experience. At the age of 24, just out of business school, she was thrown into a management role. While she had no prior experience leading a team, what she lacked in experience she made up for in a willingness to learn and a desire to prove herself capable. Throughout her career, Wiseman continued to see the value in what she calls “rookie smarts.”
Although experience can often bring resources, credibility, and greater powers of intuition, Wiseman says the problem with too much experience is overconfidence. That is, experience can cause us to fly through the workday on autopilot. “We think we’ve got it all figured out, so we take answers from the past and we apply them to the future, which is fine when the world is stable, but when the world is changing fast, we can be missing huge changes in the market,” says Wiseman. Experience can lead to feeling complacent and comfortable to the point where we stop seeking input and feedback, which Wiseman argues is essential for growth.
“Rookies tend to outperform people with experience in the knowledge industries where the work is innovative in nature,” says Wiseman. While experienced workers can find their careers flatlining as they stop pushing the envelope, rookies are constantly seeking out new ways to solve problems and are focused on growth in their careers.
Because they don’t have all the answers themselves, rookies tend to ask more questions, listen, and seek out opinions of experts. In doing so, they’re able to gather more diverse points of view that provide them with a wider view, leading to more innovative ideas. In addition, because rookies aren’t weighed down by a wealth of knowledge or a reputation they need to defend, Wiseman says they tend to move through the world of work like backpackers venturing out exploring new terrain and are more likely to explore new answers to problems.
Being thrust into a new situation also forces rookies to act on their toes and learn quickly. “We’re a little bit anxious, paranoid, maybe our confidence is low. We’re so mindful that we need to do a good job that we tend to do our very best work,” says Wiseman.
You don’t have to be a recent college grad to tap into your rookie smarts. Wiseman says even experienced leaders can get into the rookie mindset. In fact, in the course of her research, Wiseman found the highest-performing rookies were experienced executives who were being asked to work in a different domain. “They have some base of experience. They get to bring their wisdom and executive savvy with them, but they’re now put in a situation where they don’t really know what they’re doing and they’re forced into this learning mode–they’re humbled, hungry, and hopeful,” says Wiseman.
Four ways to tap into your rookie smarts:
1. Look for a challenge
Constantly putting yourself in challenging situations is one way to maintain your “rookie attitude.” Say yes to things that are outside of your comfort zone and take on tasks that you aren’t the most qualified for. This will force you to stay in the mode of learning.
2. Audit your assumptions
Experience can cause us to become complacent and accept ways of doing things simply because they’re what we’ve been doing since the beginning. Tap into your “rookie attitude” by challenging your own assumptions and ask whether the assumptions you hold are still true. Wiseman gives the example of a manager who believes all staff need to work in the same office in order to be productive. Taking the time to reevaluate whether this is truly the case anymore is a great way to flex that rookie muscle.
3. Ask questions
Go into a meeting and ask the type of questions a newcomer would be comfortable asking. Questions such as “why are we doing this?” “what would happen if we didn’t do this?” and “who is this decision in the best interest of?” allows your mind to stretch beyond what it already accepts as being the answers and consider other options.
4. Take a course in something new
Because they never know which skills they will require next, one thing rookie employees are always doing is learning. Signing up for a course in something that will stretch your mental muscle is a great way to tap into your rookie smarts.