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Are Skills More Important Than Experience?

by David Brock on December 26th, 2017

I was reading an article from yet another guru—my apologies, I’m really getting tired of guru’s—with the premise, Skills are more important than experience.

To add credibility to his statement, he quoted Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, but really took one statement out of an interview, removing the context that supported what she was saying.

There’s some sense to that statement.  Having great skills is very important  (at least skills relevant to the role you are seeking to fill).  His argument, is that deep experience in an area doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the skills to perform.  And that a highly skilled person can adapt to various different situations, so experience becomes less relevant.

But there also is a certain circularity to the argument, as well.  How do we develop skills?  Well through certain experience……  So experience is important, in some context, though experience in a particular role/industry/sector may not be as important.

There is also a completely different discussion about experience.  Too often, we become prisoners of our own experience.  Even though we have great skills, we tend to see things the same way, the way things have always been done—in our role, in our company, in our industry.  As a result, we become blind.  Even though we have great experience and great skills, it becomes very difficult for us to recognize the need to change or to innovate.

There is huge power in getting skilled people with different experiences, because they bring fresh ideas, and different perspectives (which was actually the point Sheryl was making–at least based on my experience of her).

But still, I think the skills versus experience discussion is a little simplistic.  I think we have to look a little deeper.

For example, we see many people with great experience that fail to achieve their potential.  We see just as many with great skills, who fail to use them to achieve their full potential.

I think what we are really looking at is the underlying mindsets.  What really drives performance is a growth oriented mindset?  Implicit in this is curiosity, a drive to learn and grow, a certain resilience in dealing with obstacles and failure, a willingness to look at other views/perspectives, openness, seeking help and helping others.

After all, without this, skills and experience become relatively meaningless.  Or they could stagnate (The old maxim “Do you have 10 years of experience, or have you just had the same experience 10 times?)

What do you think?


Afterword:  One could fairly argue that I’m being unfair and taking the guru out of context, because undoubtedly, he has a much broader perspective than just that expressed in the article.  That’s why I’m not pointing you to the article or identifying the individual.  Having said that, I do think the individual could have broadened the discussion to have greater impact.


From → Performance

  1. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    Hmmm. For me, skill comes from experience – put the two together and you get competence.

    I used to train aircrew in & out of the military. Initial training developed skill through a combination of theory/ academics & practice. After some time the aircrew were competent enough to be useful members of the organization as aircrew. You wouldn’t want an unskilled pilot or loadmaster getting in the way!

    Having met initial safety & competence standards, focus switched to developing & polishing the competency – through a variety of relevant experiences – simulated and (mostly) real, with plenty of feedback & coaching. Many tasks could be done by these newbies without supervision or close oversight. At some point they were polished enough, experienced & competent enough to undertake all appropriate tasks & missions without supervision. A lot of this time was really spent developing good judgement.

    So, a debate over skills & experience is for me not as useful as focusing on what it means to be useful, competent and able to deploy good judgement in a variety of different situations.

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