McKinsey: The Obsolescence of Experience


Reposted from McKinsey Quarterly:

Another implication flows from the creation of this new knowledge resource. The new generation of managers, those now aged 35 or under, is the first generation that thinks in terms of putting knowledge to work before one has accumulated a decade or two of experience. Mine was the last generation of managers who measured their value entirely by experience. All of us, of necessity, managed by experience—not a good process, because experience cannot be tested or be taught. Experience must be experienced; except by a very great artist, it cannot be conveyed.

This means that the new generation and my generation are going to be horribly frustrated working together. They rightly expect us, their elders and betters, to practice some of the things that we preach. We don’t dream of it. We preach knowledge and system and order, since we never had them. But we go by experience, the one thing we do have. We feel frustrated and lost because, after devoting half our lifetimes to acquiring experience, we still don’t really understand what we’re trying to do. The young are always in the right, because time is on their side. And that means we have to change.

This brings us to the third implication, a very important one. Any business that wants to stay ahead will have to put very young people into very big jobs—and fast. Older men cannot do these jobs—not because they lack the necessary intelligence, but because they have the wrong conditioned reflexes. The young ones stay in school so long they don’t have time to acquire the experience we used to consider indispensable in big jobs. And the age structure of our population is such that in the next 20 years, like it or not, we are going to have to promote people we wouldn’t have thought old enough, a few years ago, to find their way to the water cooler. Companies must learn to stop replacing the 65-year-old man with the 59-year-old. They must seek out their good 35-year-olds.

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