Beware the Experience Trope

As a globally-experienced safety & risk innovator, let me share some tough love. If you are either in the job market hearing the line or you are a recruiter whose boss is telling you the line “only experienced candidates who can hit the ground running,” be very afraid. The “needs experience” trope is a smokescreen for trying to buy talent rather than pony up the institutional discipline (commit the precious time & money) to develop the deep bench in-house.

A deep bench requires more than a quarterly glance at financials; it requires a leader with the passion and drive to inspire technically talented yet quirky, flawed individuals, to learn the life-long lessons of reading people and developing a resilient structured question methodology.

With over 7000 hours on the training platform and innovations across 9 work cultures, I can report than nothing less will do. Two powerful industry examples prove the point. More is just piling on words.

  1. BP had 70 safety “experts” on the Deepwater Horizon team. So clearly having relevant experience didn’t save them.
  2. The US Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion program famously takes history majors and turns out remarkably proficiency reactor power operators. I won a full-ride Navy scholarship, but didn’t want a career on submarines, so I didn’t go Navy nuke (I did surface line w/a brief hitch as a spook).

The Navy Nuke Power Program has one of the most envied safety records of any industry, while the construction trades as a whole have the worst, with no other field a close second. So the construction market is growing, yet their reputation precedes their reach. In this economy, people will take nearly any job offered. Once we get beyond this pack of Amateurs, the talent will flow into other more rewarding areas.

Poster from movie Shooter

Image: IMDB

The candidate destined for success in a safety & risk role is like Michael Peña’s character Nick Memphis in Shooter: confident, relentless and uncompromising when pressed to deny what he knows to be true and has the evidence to back it up.

An excerpt from 19 Days™ to Business Intimacy highlights the findings of the global re-insurance giant Allianz. The survey results dramatically show what I have referred to as the challenge of building business intimacy – a small town|big city dichotomy. Let me illustrate:

The German insurance giant Allianz did a survey of 300 of their largest clients, 97% of those surveyed in middle management and 99% of those in the C-suite didn’t even consider internal risks (the small town) and confined their top-ten focus to big city concerns.


What good is the most advanced software in the world loaded with the answers people thought you wanted to hear? Accurate predictions start with accurate data.

  • To do that you have to gather accurate data.
  • To do THAT, you have to actually have interactions with people who will tell you what you need to hear, not what they think you want to hear.


Small Town/Big City distinctions

These small town/big city distinctions are just as effective in defining the chasm between the first world and the rest. A couple of real world stories from Peru and Romania to bring the point home:


When I was flying to Lima roughly every six weeks, I asked my host for two very different things that shine a beacon on data discoverability, with very different results:

  • Peanut butter
  • Mid-size non-stick bandages.

Lima is a tremendous city of over six million people, with the dominant grocery chain, Wong, every bit as technologically advanced as the Texas market leader HEB, (in fact more, they have currency conversion at the checkout register!). While my Castilian was accurate in describing peanut butter, it took three store clerks before finding one who could even conceive of why someone would want such a product.

After all,

  • Why sell a product that nobody would buy?
  • Why know where to find a product that we don’t sell?

I did find and buy the PB, yet after visiting a grocery and two pharmacies, my host and I concluded that mid-size non-stick bandages were simply not available, at any rational price.


A conversation with a publishing partner in Bucharest, Romania, involved licorice, the real kind made from anise. I was utterly dumbfounded when she told me (completely seriously) that “we don’t have licorice here and especially in the countryside, outside of Bucharest, people don’t cook much with spices.” Whether it’s true or not is almost irrelevant, she believes it to be true and makes decisions based on that belief.


Building resilient organizations

Building resilient organizations with exponential improvements in risk discovery requires the optimum blend of high tech and high touch:

  • the deep experience of the seasoned professional with the right equipment and “big data”
  • saved from hubris (and catastrophe) by the innocence and willingness of the freshest face on the team to ask questions about sacred cows and other taboo topics.

So long for now.

Carpe Diem!


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