Creativity and the Curse of Experience

We have written before about the need for organizations to innovate, be creative and try to delight an essentially spoiled and thrill-immune customer base.  We remain as convinced as ever that this is the core pre-requisite for surviving and thriving in the downturn (and beyond).  We have also written before that there are a number of reasons why organizations do not innovate (fear of failure being a common contributor) and that organizations need to change they way they handle people and deal with potential failure if they are to emulate the ‘cool’ ground breakers like Apple, Google and Virgin.

Ironically, one of the more common creative straight-Jackets is experience.  Experience is the great prize in today’s commercial world, almost every job classified ad demands it, it is used as the basis of position, remuneration, power and authority in companies around the world – ironic then that one of the most admired companies in the world should be Virgin, a company given that name because its founders and early managers freely admitted they had no experience in what they were doing.

Some years ago I had a colleague who used to never tire of saying in meetings that he had “20 years of experience” – the trouble was that he didn’t!  Oh, he had been in the industry for 20 years, but had steadfastly clung on to the rules and norms he learned early on.  curse breaker He would not innovate, create or stray in any way from the well-worn paths of certainty.  What he had was ONE year of experience which he had managed to repeat 20 times!

This I feel, is common in many companies.  We have a strange relationship with experience, we admire it, revere it, treasure it and bow down to it – the trouble is that it may be killing creativity, killing innovation and encouraging the status-quo-as-strategic-option philosophy that is killing innovation, providing less and less points of differentiation between competing offerings and contributing towards making an already thrill-immune customer, ever more cynical and demanding that price become the sole point of differentiation.

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