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Prisoners Of Our Own Experience

by David Brock on February 11th, 2020

Recently, I had separate discussions with two very good sales executives. Each was taking a very strong position on particular aspects of selling. As the discussions progressed, I could see their perspectives were limited by their experience.

One was talking about how to drive decision-making on deals. He was taking a position, “This is the way everything gets done. If you aren’t doing this, you will fail!”

I pushed him on his statements, “What causes you to reach these conclusions?” He responded, “Every company I’ve worked for, every deal I have worked on fits this pattern. It’s what I’ve learned to do to be successful.”

He had started as a leader with a new company. As we continued the discussion, I learned that all of a sudden, all the things that he knew that worked, that drove his past success, weren’t working very well. In fact he was struggling. His experience base was failing him, he didn’t know what to do?

Our experience is often very helpful. The more similar experiences we have, the more we apply what we have learned to each subsequent experience. We use these to develop our processes, and our approaches to working with customers and getting things done.

As we experience more, we refine things, based on the new experiences, but largely we are driven by those cumulative experiences.

And this works until it doesn’t.

Our experiences can be very limiting. They create bias in the way we look at things and evaluate them (confirmation bias),. We start seeing things the way we want to see them, but not necessarily as they are.

Our experiences may cause us to respond in ways, that may no longer be effective. As a result, what used to work, may no longer.

Our experiences can limit us and stop us from growing. We develop closed mindsets–which at some point are always limiting.

We become prisoners of our own experiences.

How do we recognize and deal with this?

The short answer is by paying attention, by being fully conscious, and never seduced by that which seems to be working.

Our experience can serve us very well, making us both effective and efficient in achieving our goals. But we must be attentive to changes with our customers, changes in our markets, changes in our own organizations? We must have some level of healthy skepticism, “Just because it’s always worked in the past, does that mean it will continue in the future?”

We must learn to recognize the early signs that things may not be working as well and our experience may not be as valid as it was in the past.

We must continue to learn and grow, never accepting the status quo, but challenging it, thinking, “Is there a different way that might be better? Are there things happening that demand we change?”

We should protect ourselves from being insular. In the case I referenced above, the individual’s experience base was SaaS (and a very narrow view of SaaS). We need to look outside ourselves, outside our competition, into very different industries and markets. We can learn things they are doing and look at whether some of those might be artfully adapted to help us grow and improve (I’m a huge fan of artful plagiarism.).

We should talk to different people, not just ourselves. Customers are always a great place to start.

We should never become too confident or complacent, because “what has always worked,” is working less and less for more organizations.

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