Don’t Be Trapped By Your Own Experience


“Just because nobody complains, doesn’t mean all parachutes are perfect” (1).

Whether it is a joke, a double-entendre or witty observation, humour invariably involves the unexpected casting of a new perspective onto an established one.

That sudden expansion of awareness as we “see” a joke triggers a reward in our pre-frontal cortex, natures clever little way of encouraging more of a behaviour. Likewise creativity; nature gives us a double reward for being creative, not only with bursts of pleasure-inducing dopamine but also providing a handy leg-up in the evolutionary game of survival. Creative responses to change are the foundations of adaptability and survival in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.

Paradigm shifting, disruptive ideas often look totally left-field at the time, but in hindsight are frequently iterations and integrations of past ideas and experiences. Creative solutions may often be simply the result of holding two (or more) unrelated ideas together, until a new relationship or perspective surfaces.

Experience can become a double-edged sword

Logically then, the more diverse experiences we have, the richer the vein of material to mine for these creative connections. However, experience can become a double-edged sword. It’s very easy for us to slip into judgement, to use old connections to filter new ones, to not listen or allow proximity to contrary views, and be too keen to rely on our own past experience to deliver a perceived level of ‘certainty’.

Getting too attached to the past is one of life’s great seductions and one of the greatest challenges for older members of the workforce. Tried and tested learning, gained through experience, is no longer a guaranteed ticket to a successful future. As the pace of change accelerates, it is critical to harness the collective intelligence to have a chance of generating truly creative solutions.

So what can be done for experienced workers to stay relevant? How can they tap into their wealth of experiences without sounding and acting like the older generation dragging up the good old days? How can they use their depth of experience to foster agility and creativity?

The starting point is to find a balance between our conscious and unconscious thinking processes. While most creativity may appear to be unconscious - a gut response - there are four key roles for conscious thinking to play:

1. Consciously surface and mitigate the unconscious biases that can cloud new idea generation.

2. Consciously ‘park’ the need to be right (or fear of being wrong).

3. Resist the desire to analyse and evaluate using success models of the past.

4. Despite the pressures to move quickly and be decisive, we must give ourselves time and be willing to sit in ambiguity; to let diverse experiences cohabit, to play and take risks and allow intuition and gut instinct to have a voice.

Seeing from multiple perspectives and risking looking foolish are at the heart of creativity and humour. Experience will count for little unless we consciously take steps to let these processes flourish. Fail to do this, and older workers risk not only missing the joke but becoming it.

“I like to play chess with old men in the park, although it’s hard to find 32 of them” (2).

Andrew Lee is Managing Director of Inqurio and lead facilitator of Gutthink & Partners Training programmes. Click here for more information about Gutthink Training or contact Andrew on andrew.lee@inqurio.com.au

With thanks to: (1) Benny Hill (2) Emo Phillips

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