“How could we have been so stupid?” asked President John F. Kennedy, after he and a group of close advisers had blundered into the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Stupidity was certainly not the explanation. The group who made the decision was one of the greatest collections of high experience and intellectual talent in the history of American government. Then what was the problem? In my view the blunder occurred as a result of over-reliance of experienced members of the group which consequently drove out the innovative realistic appraisal of alternatives.
Many organizations and institutions continue to suffer from a similar fate that befell President J.F.Kennedy. They put high premium on experience when recruiting staff and various professionals at the expense of innovation. They employ someone who has worked in different countries and institutions for a period say forty years. Then the leadership in this organization is excited that it has got a new catch with a wealth of experience. What this leadership does not realize is that the so called “new catch” doesn’t have forty years’ experience but rather has one year experience repeated forty times. I mean this fellow has never had a single innovation for the last thirty nine years.
Unless we expect the future to be a replica of the past, experience must not be given the center stage in decision making. In most cases organizations tend to recruit professionals to help in devising strategies that will generate superior performance. That means they put emphasis on professionals who have experience on strategy formulation instead of the ability to execute strategy.
A study was carried out by Charles B. Handy the author of the book, “Understanding Organizations,” for 275 portfolio managers and found out that the ability to execute strategy was more important than the quality of the strategy itself. These managers cited strategy implementation as the most important factor shaping management and corporate valuations.
In his book – 33 strategies of war, Robert Greene said, ‘’The greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary to drop the preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment. This is how creativity is sparked and opportunities are seized. The better we adapt our thoughts to changing circumstances, the more realistic our responses to them will be.” The author is simply saying that to succeed in war, it is not how much you know about the past rules of fighting the war but your creative capacity to manoeuvre through the present circumstances into the future.
Karl Weick described an experiment by Gordon Sin where he reported that if you place in a bottle half dozen bees and the same number of flies, and lay the bottle down horizontally with its base to the window, you will find that the bees will persist until they die of exhaustion or hunger in their endeavor to discover an exit through the glass; while the flies in less than two minutes, will all have sculled forth through the neck on the opposite side. The bees evidently imagine that the exit from every prison must be there where the light shines clearest, and they act in accordance, and persist in too logical action. Whereas the flies, careless of logic, flutter wildly hither and thither and safely find an exit without much trouble. If you look at this experiment, it is the bees’ intelligence, knowledge and experience that is their undoing. They think that where the reflection of light is coming from, that is where the exit is.
When faced with a problem, most organizations have people who dive deep into the resources of what is known from past experience and so they end up producing more of the same. In other words, they are confined to the academic zone, instead of being innovative and creative. Therefore, for organization to be successful, they must find people who have imaginative ways to help them overcome some of the obstacles that they will be presented with.
Les Brown tells a story about a busy executive who was on his way to a meeting and was always rushing from one place to another. As he left his office he was approached by a shoeshine man who requested to shine his shoes. The businessman refused by saying that he did not have time. He was approached by another shoe-shiner in another block and gave the same excuse of not having time. Well, at the seventh block he walked past a shoeshine stand and the man was counting: “97, 98, 99, 100”. “Good Morning Sir, you look like a busy man so I apologise for the interruption. But today is my birthday and I made myself a promise that I would give a free shine to the one hundredth person who came to my stand and you are that person Sir. Please let me have the honour.” The businessman sat down and the shoe-shiner went to work and worked diligently and the business man gave him 10 dollars (Ksh 1000) and said to him, “Happy Birthday”. The shoe shiner stood there for a few minutes and then said “97, 98, 99……” This story simply shows that we must be innovative and creative because it is by so doing that we can push the boundaries of imagination to new limits.
If you visit my Facebook page, you will be surprised how many people want me to wish them a “Happy Birthday”. In fact on 1st January this year (2018), several messages came in saying that let us rejoice and celebrate a new year, but the truth is that majority of them were still in the past. In other words, it is one thing for the calendar to read 2018 and another thing for the mind to have progressed that far. So a person’s true age is not measured by the calendar but by the processing power of the mind and that is where the focus should be.
Going back to the first paragraph where I cited how J.F. Kennedy was shocked by the blunder he had made, he later learnt his lesson. The missile crisis was handled differently with more diffuse group, more outside innovative ideas without necessarily focusing on experience and more testing of alternatives.
Remember that if you focus to recruit a person into your organization who has one year experience repeated forty times and close out a dynamic and innovative young person who is 30 years old but has 30 years’ experience, you are doing so at the expense of the organization. So analyze critically and optimize all factors without being influenced by physical age and related experience.