Thursday, October 6, 2016

Morey's Law #23 - Experience Is Something You Don't Get Until...

This particular law is actually a quote from American Comedian Steven Wright (known for his sad, deadpan delivery style), and he is absolutely right (I promise, that should be the first and last pun for this blog entry):

Experience Is Something You Don't Get Until Just After You Need It.  

Often we are told "Fake it until you make it!" or "Accept the job, then figure it out!" While I've been through those approaches in most of my career, I have realized one thing: the greatest teacher is experience. My wife and several of my friends claim that I am one of the most well read people they know in the field of leadership. I consume mountainous volumes of material annually. I should be well prepared from other people's lessons for nearly any leadership challenge one can face. Yet, I consistently find myself experiencing new scenarios which I have to reason out, and sometimes fail at. These experiences are the father of this blog, and in fact are the father of most of the Morey's Laws. As much as I would like to learn from others rather than experience the pain myself, or for that matter truncate your learning curve with my own pain, sometimes Experience is the only teacher.

AAR from ROTC Program

But how do you make the most of the Experience? Too often people will shy away from things that go wrong, and speed by things that went right. We don't take the time to examine and gain the full benefit of the experience. This is something the military can be very good at, and why it is a critical part of my C4 Leadership Formula. The job is not COMPLETE until you perform a review, or as we referred to it in the Army, an After Action Review or AAR (there are other factors to COMPLETE, but this blog post will focus on the AAR).

I won't rehash the entire previous blog post, as you can click the link and read it. What I will do is encourage you to make the most of your experiences. The lessons from experience are often forgotten or sped by because of our own human nature. In order to truly grow from experiences, you need the time to absorb the actual lesson.

Once you have the lessons, then you need to determine how to apply them. Often I ask organizations if they have a lessons learned database, which some do and most don't. I then ask how do people add to the database, then how is it maintained, and finally, how is it used. I am grouping these questions together, because the answer is typically silence. I heard this phrase a while ago (related to self-help merchandise, but pertinent here), that so often these lessons learned because "shelf-help" because the lessons are collected, but never used, sitting on a shelf.

My recommendation is to take as many of the lessons as you can and apply them directly to the processes and procedures within your organization (even if they are only footnotes to be cautious about a particular situation / scenario). This way the lessons are not lost in a database, but applied to something people use on a regular basis.

In addition to updating procedures, it may be worthwhile for the Quality Department, or perhaps your own department to release regular lessons learned as a part of the newsletter in order to ensure they aren't lost in the void and a reminder is sent.

Finally, do what you can to ensure the lessons learned database is keyword / topic searchable, in order to ease people finding the material they need. Remember, Morey's Law #23:

Experience Is Something You Don't Get Until Just After You Need It. 

Experience is fantastic, but the real secret is if you can't find a way to use it, then what did you gain from it after you got it?

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