29th August 2013:
Over the years this blog has been a champion of two purportedly opposite points of view; firstly that experience within local government is incredibly important (and the rate at which we are losing it in the current contraction is therefore concerning) and secondly that new ideas, innovation and youth is much needed in a sector that can, at times, appear deeply sclerotic.
I have been reflecting on these two competing positions recently for two reasons; firstly as I reflect on my own work and career and secondly as I talk about other staff and ideas that we might want to employ or deploy. The odd thing is that my answer seems to change depending on whether I’m thinking about my own career or thinking about other people’s careers and ideas.
Let’s start with my career; I am aware more than ever of the gap between the skills I have as opposed to my relative lack of experience and the impact that this will have on my ability to deploy those skills to maximum effect. Much of this challenge is around decision making. Having the skills to do something, or the ability to work out what to do is very different from doing that thing. Whether it’s leading a project, managing staff, dealing with political situations or just working out the best way to achieve whatever you want to it is undeniable that having experience of doing those things is invaluable.
And thus, following this logic, if you want to do well as a local government officer getting that wide range of experience is absolutely essential. For me the awareness of the things I have not been exposed to, or had experience of, represents a big gap in my CV and something that needs to be rectified to enable the skills and knowledge I have developed to come to the fore.
Experience is crucial.
And yet whilst I believe that experience is crucial this should not be seen in isolation. Sometimes the most experienced people at work are the best and sometimes that experience can become a restraint that stops them from doing anything new and trying any idea that might have failed in the past.
The best answer I can come up with is that experience helps you make good decisions but it doesn’t help you expand your world view and it doesn’t necessarily make you more competent or indeed more innovative.
Ignoring someone, or indeed their idea, because they don’t have experience is the equivalent of narrowing your field of decision making to only things you have experienced personally, and what’s more only your own version of that experience. Likewise, blithely ploughing ahead without listening to people who have experienced things in the past is equally narrow.
Experience is never a bad thing but what you do with that experience and the impact you let it have on you and your decision making can be.
And so the question becomes one of context. In some circumstances experience is crucial (hence your Director and Chief Executive are not 25 year olds) and in others the lack of the wrong type of experience can be brilliant.
My conclusion from all of this is that experience is a good thing and should be celebrated; however, if we let that experience limit our decision making or let it preclude us from appreciating the contribution of less experienced staff that is a real shame. Local government needs staff with experience and local government staff, like me, need to continue to gain different experiences and learn from them.
Despite the recognition that both are important I wonder whether part of my turmoil over this is that local government is really good at celebrating experience and bad at celebrating new ideas so any correction towards valuing those who have the skills and ideas but not the experience is probably a good thing.
And maybe the combination of those two points is why I find myself so conflicted over this issue.