Researchers who study survival situations, where decisions determine life and death, stumbled upon a most unusual finding. So surprising is this pattern, they pored through the data on survivors with the hope they were wrong. But, the conclusion became painfully clear: beginners, and those who lack experience in a given situation, normally survive. The seasoned veterans who have the experience to survive usually perish.
How can this be?
Why do hunters familiar with rough terrain and the perils of bad weather succumb to a deadly snow storm while their inexperienced counterparts, who have rarely been in the mountains, survive?
It appears the answer is about experience and how it can sometimes prove detrimental. The more experience we have, the more assumptions we make about what will work and will not work in a given situation. Experience can blind us, causing us to be overly confident about what is happening and how we should respond.
In the case of survival, experience can prevent common sense from prevailing. To return to our hunting example, hypothermia in extreme temperatures can kill. An experienced hunter might look at a shrub full of leaves and see lots of air flow and open branches and move on. The beginner looks at those same leaves and sees warmth and protection. The beginner surrounds themselves with those leaves in the core of the shrub. The experienced hunter walks on and succumbs to the cold.
As leaders, how many assumptions do we make based upon our experience that do not serve us well and prevent us from seeing things clearly? Experience is a wonderful asset — as long as a leader doesn’t allow that experience to obscure the reality in front of them.