What Is The Half-Life of Experience?

Experience is a good thing but within limits.  You cannot apply experience when new reality is different from the reality in which the experience was developed.

In Northern Canada, the environment is such that some of the things that are obvious here are not applicable.

About 20 years ago, I was on James Bay at the same time as a person from the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources. This person had graduated from university a few months earlier, and was there to explain fishing to the locals. You might wonder why, but that is a question for another day.

His version of reality was that nets with large holes should be used. That way the little fish and the middle sized fish could swim through and the large fish would be caught. Over time the middle sized fish would become large and the small fish would be come middle sized. A perfect natural flow.  Wrong!

The natives do it differently. Their holes were smaller and as a result neither the large fish nor the small fish are caught. Big fish can repopulate the lake in 3 years. The middle sized fish take much longer.

According to the Chief, “We work the same way as the government. Create a method that harvests the middle-class.”

If your experience is in a different context, then experience can be harmful.  Experience is only useful if it was earned in a reality where the underlying principles are the same as the reality in which it is being applied. In the north, a place where summer lasts from 10:30 in the morning until 2:15 in the afternoon of July 9th, Southern experience is invalid.

Each of us has a set of unique to us experiential facts. A large share of our communication problems arise because we believe that everyone shares our facts. They do not. Relying on your personal experience does not always work.

In tech industries, experience is about 90% useless in 5 years. In marketing, maybe it lasts a little longer. If you led the Harvard MBA class in marketing in 1990, what would the facts you knew then be worth today? Not zero, but certainly less.

What is the half-life of experience? How long until half of its value has disappeared? Can you tell which half has gone away?

There are two points.

  1. Experience has two forms. One durable and one transient. The durable part is the underlying principles of markets, human behavior, motivation, relationships and self-development skills like discipline, integrity, selflessness and commitment. They may not last forever but they change more slowly than the transient part that involves fashion, technology, methods and techniques.
  2. Obsolete experience is dangerous. If you hold onto ideas that have passed, you will be lead to behave in ways that cannot work.

Hold this thought.

“In times of great change, experience will be your worst enemy.” J.Paul Getty

To succeed,  you will need to examine your experience and see how that is connected to what you are attempting to accomplish. You will discover that a good deal of what you think to be true has changed enough that it is now harming you.

It is hard to keep up to date, but it is crucial.

Contact: don@moneyfyi.com  

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.


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