Is Experience the Enemy of Innovation?
One of my former marketing professors at a large, local university recently asked me to help judge upper-level marketing presentations with other area marketing professionals. The small, group presentations were based on either a product introduction or a new marketing plan for a small business facing an issue.
Various groups treated us, “professionals,” to 10-minute presentations. After each, we evaluated them based on the project content as well as their presentation skills and visuals used (the students involved in the project for a local dog rescue brought two of the rescue’s clients—puppies—which I’m sure scored a few extra points!)
Each of us was given a blue ribbon to award to the group we felt simply did the best. The groups proudly displayed their ribbons at their table. There was definitely a sense of competition and pride in what they’d worked on, learned and presented.
In the question-and-answer time that followed, we sometimes brought up an issue. In a few cases, there would be a look of disappointment or embarrassment across the face of at least one of the students. Most of the time, however, either the students had anticipated that issue or obstacle and planned accordingly – or, if the problem was “new” to them, we saw the wheels turning. In one case, a student actually bring up the potential obstacle I’d suggested in their next presentation, along with a solution to it they had developed during the two minutes between presentations. That group earned my blue ribbon based on that.
I came away from this opportunity with two basic observations:
1) The energy. The students were excited about the projects they’d spent most of the semester working on. There was passion that came from the groups. It wasn’t an assignment to them anymore. They had poured their heart and soul into it, and I’m excited for the local businesses that will benefit from the work they did.
2) The innovation. There were methods used in their projects that were taught in the classroom: marketing fundamentals, SWOT analysis, survey work, interviews, etc. However, the presentations came alive. All of the methods along with the actual implementations—and teamwork with their peers—truly seemed to bring it home to them. Their solutions were thought out based on their findings. They did not simply throw a video or a few social media posts at something.
With the experience we gain over the years, we lessen our ability to look at things with a fresh perspective. Often we need to force ourselves to step back rather than have the excitement be new and natural. It is easy to run into obstacles in our day-to-day and shake off what we initially thought was a good idea because we discover a reason why it won’t work. Surrendering too easily is just that—giving up. Take a step back and shake off preconceptions, turn the problem over and inside out–that’s when the solutions become apparent.
Experience is important, however, it can be used as a crutch when someone doesn’t have the drive to innovate. Coupling solid, basic experience with passion for learning while solving a problem might be the winning combination. In a larger organization, we can have more diversity through our hiring and career pathing, fostering energy and innovation. In a small one, it can be helped through an intern (look for a passionate one!) or by networking with people who might not be a potential customer—they simply look at things very differently than we do and can help provide the fresh eyes we lack once we gain experience.