Constraints of Experience

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Does experience kill creativity? Have my experiences started to constrain me in any way? I found myself questioning when a few days back, a colleague gave me an idea which did not go down well with me and I caught myself saying, ‘I have almost 20 years of work experience, this is just not possible’. Almost immediately on saying this, the question arose in my mind – is my experience killing my creativity. Not only mine, is it also killing the creativity of my colleagues who give me good ideas? Just because things have traditionally not been done, it does not mean the new idea is not worth a good try!

History is evidence of the fact that breakthrough ideas in businesses do not come from the same industries. If you continue to do what has always been done, you will continue to get the same result. If you want a breakthrough, you need to come out of your comfort zone, try ideas that have never been tried, follow your instinct, not your experience.

Experience lies in the past and to rely on the past to deliver a result in the future may be a mistake. Experience tells you what is possible. And that I think is the core of what I find constraining! I don’t need experience to tell me what is possible. I want to make possible what I want to make possible. Then have the gumption and the courage to take on everything to make possible what I want to make possible.

Some of my / our success (as an organsiation) has happened when we have gone ahead boldly and have not been constrained by our and others experiences. The one example that comes to mind immediately is that of Gift Your Organ Foundation and its launch. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of people who advised us against getting into this unknown territory. ‘You have no knowledge of this’; ‘There are various people who are already in this and are not getting much success’; ‘What will and can you achieve – you are wasting your time’, etc were the kind of statements that we heard. Some of these statements came from people within the profession.

The Gift Your Organ team saw various patients dying waiting for organs; the team also saw various organs being wasted and not being used to save lives and finally and more importantly, the team saw a future that there were no deaths due to want of organs. We were enlivened by this future. This future was our inspiration and the driving force and not our (and others) experiences of how similar projects have failed in the past. It then did not matter what was required to be done to achieve this future. This future had to be achieved.

Does that mean that experience is worthless? No, I have questioned this to myself and after a little bit of probing, the response that I have got is that there are two ways to use experience (yours and that of others):

a. Use experience to set your goals. You know what is possible based on your experience and use this experience to establish your goals;

b. Or the other way is to boldly declare your result first and then use experience (yours and others) to go about delivering on the actions now required in achieving the declared result.

As stated above, when you use your experience to set goals, you are coming from the past and chances are you are setting very mediocre goals. However, when you declare what you want to achieve first, and then use your experience to achieve these goals, there are very high chances of you reaching your goals, which by your own measure are high goals. Let me sum this up by giving another example of the Gift Your Organ Foundation.

Thursday last week, the Gift Your Organ Foundation team met (minus Reshma who lives in Chennai), and the four of us (Tina, Raj, Priyanka and myself) were wondering how can we make a real big difference, and that too immediately. Considering that the next big day was the World Kidney Day on the 8th of March, we wanted to do something relevant to this day. A lot of ideas were debated and discussed and finally, as a group, we have made a bold declaration that on the 8th of March we will provide 500 economically poor patients an opportunity to free dialysis for 6 months each. The project cost, as a rough calculation, is to the tune of 3.5 crores; and we have less than 3 months to generate this funding / sponsorship.

Our experience says this is not possible; we say it is!
Sameer Dua, Founder Director, Institute For Generative Leadership, India