The value of experience on the road to mastery

Have you ever found yourself slavishly following directions even when your instincts are telling you something is wrong? It happened to me last weekend – in a momentary pursuit of being a domestic goddess, I decided to make my own breakfast granola. The recipe I chose was clear and unambiguous; easy to follow. And follow it I did even though as I did so I could tell the mixture was too dry and there was too much fruit and too little oats. Despite the warning bells going off in my head, I continued, hoping the 20 minutes in the oven would miraculously cure things and the envisioned yummy granola would perfectly appear. What eventually appeared was dry, bland and inedible. Oh well, I thought to myself, next time I will trust my instinct and experience.

All this got me thinking about the value of experience – the incredible value of learning by doing something for the second, third or hundredth time in building a skill over time. The concept of 70/20/10 has been around in learning circles for some time, where 70% of learning time should be spent on job-related interventions (like live action learning workshops and facilitated team-based solutions) and 10% in more ad-hoc 'classroom' activities. More structured learning support is essential in establishing knowledge and know-how, but can be wasted if not focussed on the needs of the role, function or business. In years gone by, the value of on-the-job learning was widely recognised as apprentices moved into their masters homes and spent years being taught from those who had mastered their chosen craft, and also watching, practising and honing their own skills over time. Ultimately, these apprentices were building up not just a huge store of knowledge but the gut feel, the instinct, to apply what they had learnt –the invaluable experience needed for true expertise.

So, how often do we in Marketing offer the opportunity for marketers to learn from the Masters? I was really pleased to see Boris Johnson taking a full page to advertise his apprenticeship scheme in a recent issue of Marketing, and the Marketing Hall of Legends has also recently launched its own marketing apprentice scheme – aiming to provide fully funded 12 month Marketing apprenticeships for disadvantaged young people aged 18 to 24.

Experienced Marketers should not automatically be dismissed as having 'old school' or out-of-date expertise in the era of digital technology and social media. The core principles of effective Marketing remain as valid today as they ever were – the challenge lies in adapting and evolving thinking through both formal opportunities to learn the what, as well as coaching on-the-job for developing the how of marketing excellence applied to the changing customer landscape in which we now operate.

In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink refers to 'Mastery' as one of 3 elements that drives the intrinsic motivation of people (the other two being Autonomy and Purpose). He defines 'mastery' as the desire to get better and better at something that matters - taking effort and determination. So if you are a master of marketing, what will you do today to pass some of that experience on to a marketing apprentice, or someone more junior in your team?

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