Experience + Education = Success

As we all go through life, we learn many lessons that we apply to our life.  One lesson I have learned is the necessity to have both experience and education to be successful (i.e., to produce results).  My journey has been quite arduous in that it has taken many paths including experience in large and small private and public companies, and many levels of government – at times as a consultant and other times as an employee; teaching from junior high school through PhD programs; and education from undergraduate through PhD.  Along the way, evidence mounted that having just experience or education was not enough – both were needed to be successful – whether as an employee, a leader, or in the makeup of a team.

In today’s world, having observed or participated in an event is not enough.  One must also have participated in some type of educational process by which an understanding of the “why” was gained.  That is, performing a task is not enough – it is necessary to know why the task has to be performed that way, the impact of doing so and not doing so; and having the ability to think about different ways to improve task performance including understanding the big picture impact of making the improvement.  Education does not necessarily need to be formal college education – it can be training, mentoring, coaching… and, it can occur in a formal, technical, or workplace learning environment.  However and wherever it occurs is a moot point for this discussion – what is relevant is that it must be applicable and must occur.

The proposed model for this concept is: Experience + Education = Success, or E + E = S.    For the model, experience is defined as “the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation;” education as “the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process;” and success (desired results) as “favorable or desired outcome” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/).  The concept is that E ≠ S; only E + E = S. As statisticians and researcher’s know, this relationship might be a mediated relationship, and technically we would need to do some testing to determine which E should be placed first, or if we should say E * E = S; or even what contribution does each bring (e.g., 1E + 2E = S….).  We can have those discussions later; for now, let’s just focus on the original concept – the need for both.

Within this model one person does not need to possess (and likely will not possess) all of the experience and education to be successful in all situations.  A team of people can make up the necessary combination of these two variables.  For example, during a recent work assignment, the COO and I realized that if we teamed up – with the COO’s operations experience and my knowledge of organizational behavior and process improvement / management – we could increase the success of the company.  Team up we did – we learned a tremendous amount, instituted new systems, reorganized, and implemented process improvements that resulted in streamlined processes, reduced overhead, and increased sales revenue; thereby helping the company increase success.  Individuals can possess the necessary combination of these variables as well.  For example, while working with an individual with both experience and education in the area of sales, it was evident that possessing both variables assisted in revitalizing the sales team, driving change in the team, improving customer relationships, and increasing sales; therefore being successful.  It was the combination of experience and education in each situation that brought about success.

When a person or team has education without experience, success is not achieved to the level desired; i.e., results are not achieved as efficiently and effectively as if both were present.  Things are missed because there is a theoretical perspective applied without understanding of the impact of the actions and difficulty of execution.  Misdirection is caused – sometimes without even realizing it is being caused.  Unrealistic expectations are created.  Rework is caused.  Results are diminished.  Success is reduced if not removed.  For example: a few years back, I observed a new engineer at a company.  This person came to the company after have a successful academic career – graduating at the top of the class.  This person was placed on a project team in a leader role and caused utter chaos due to a grave lack of experience in the work world.  The chaos ranged from implementing new processes without understanding the operational, logistical and financial impact; to ordering staffing changes to the team without understanding the balance that had been created by the out-going engineer.  No results, lots of rework, no success.

When a person or team has experience without education, success is not achieved to the level desired, and results are not achieved as efficiently and effectively as if both were present.  A prevalent lack of “why” exists, as well as the lack of impact from an organizational and human behavioral side; and lack of impact from a big picture perspective – i.e., impact on other departments, business units…  A reduction in creativity and thinking outside the box occurs.  Process improvement opportunities are reduced or missed all together.  For example: a little while back I worked with an organization where everyone had lots of experience – many years in the same jobs.  There was a phenomena that began occurring periodically causing a negative impact on productivity.  The organization when into “react” or “firefighting” mode.  Researching the occurrences, and applying statistical and analytical knowledge allowed the root cause to be identified.  A new process was then developed to level the work load, and alerts were put into place to ready the staff in the case the phenomena re-occurred at a later time.  Without having the knowledge of statistical and analytical techniques (and being so task driven), the staff were not able to produce the results desired.

Where do we go from here?

Recognize that Experience + Education = Success.  Partner experience and education in your workforce.  When selecting someone for an independent role, ensure he/she has a combination of experience and education.  When building a team, ensure the team has have a combination of experience and education.  At the end of the day being successful (i.e., achieving desired results) happens with a combination of experience and education.

© 2013 Heather Williams-Cavaretta

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