The Experience Paradox

It’s been said the most valuable commodity is information. It’s been said there is no supplement for experience.

From the time we’re toddlers to our last dying breath, much of life is centered around the acquisition of knowledge. Sacrifice after sacrifice is made in contribution to the all-out assault known as surmounting our own ignorance.

As a life-long learner, I have been in this seat before. What I failed to realize however, is the experience or information gathered isn’t the most important element.

It’s the context in which the learning takes place.

Michael Jordan, a man who needs no contextual introduction, studied game film an interesting way. His sessions were not focused on looking at what went right or what went wrong.

His focus was on what was missing.

He was looking for what could be inserted into his repertoire that would push his game over the edge. Mistakes were certainly recognized and calibrated, but what made the real difference was he wasn’t quick to take anything away. He wasn’t looking at limiting himself. The mistakes were a result of what was missing, not what was wrong.

In business, relationships and life in general, we’re often blinded by experience. We see something unfold a certain way and we supplant it deep within our psyche, ready to pounce when we think history is about to repeat itself. As soon as reality appears to be in alignment with a belief we’ve formed, it then becomes an Easter egg hunt for what can prop up our argument.

If the belief is the table top, experience is the legs.

And while this aids us on many occasions, we cannot discount the value of leaving our minds open to what else may be possible.

Leaders acknowledge reason. Leaders acknowledge emotions and intuitions. But nothing gets in the way of a great leader and causing outstanding results. The path is always cleared to form a straight line.

To do this, the door must always remain open — even if it’s just barely cracked.

Experience is meant to serve as a guide. A map, if you will. But we still have to pick our heads up and survey the forest.

Ever play around with something you had never done or fixed before and arrive at a solution of your own volition?

This came by virtue of not being fixated on the map. You may have referenced an instruction manual, but you kept your mind in the present (a thousand pardons for the unavoidable cliché) when performing the actual work.

The same can be said for traumatic instances from our past. We had a difficult encounter with a person or endeavor and as a result, use it to substantiate a claim that all people or related-activities will produce the same outcome. 

And so the old adage goes,

It’s not the bite (experience) that harms us — it’s the venom (belief).

I’m not saying be reckless. I’m not saying deliberately ignore best practices, either.

I’m simply encouraging that crack of the door. The opening for what could happen that basic fundamentals may discredit.

Don’t let experience rob you of the moment. Wonder can ground even the best of judgment.

Stay hopeful, my friends.