Why Experience Isn’t Always the Best Teacher.

The prevailing wisdom in most organisations is that hiring individuals with extensive experience is the surefire path to success. After all, who could argue against the value of seasoned leaders who have weathered storms, conquered challenges, and possess a wealth of industry knowledge? However, beneath the surface of this seemingly sound logic lies a paradoxical truth: pursuing diversity in leadership can sometimes trump the allure of experience.

In today’s business landscape, relying solely on experience can lead to a lack of innovation and adaptability. While experienced leaders may be familiar with how things have been done in the past, they may need help to embrace new ideas and approaches. On the other hand, diverse leaders bring fresh perspectives and a willingness to challenge the status quo, which can be invaluable in driving innovation and staying ahead of the competition. Therefore, organisations should consider a balanced approach that values experience and prioritises diversity in leadership to foster continuous growth and improvement.

The Myth of the Expertise Mirage

Imagine a leadership team comprised solely of people who have spent their entire careers working in the same field and following the same well-worn path. While their expertise may be highly regarded within their industry, this homogenous group may need fresh perspectives and alternative ways of thinking. They may become trapped in a cycle of complacency, unable to adapt to changing market dynamics or identify new opportunities. In contrast, a diverse leadership team brings together individuals with varied backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets, allowing for a more dynamic and innovative approach to problem-solving. This diversity of thought and perspective can lead to exploring new ideas, challenging established norms, and, ultimately, being the driving force behind sustained success and growth. While their experience may be unquestionable, it can inadvertently lead to what we can call the “Expertise Mirage.” This mirage occurs when leaders become so entrenched in their industry’s established practices that they lose sight of innovative possibilities beyond the conventional horizon.

Breaking the chains of conformity

The danger of conformity is one of the drawbacks of choosing an expert-dominated leadership team. When everyone in the room has similar experiences and perspectives, it becomes challenging to challenge the status quo. This groupthink can stifle creativity and hinder the organisation’s ability to respond to rapidly changing markets. By breaking the chains of conformity, organisations can foster a culture of innovation and encourage employees to think outside the box. Embracing diversity in leadership and encouraging different perspectives can help identify new opportunities and solutions that would have otherwise been overlooked. By challenging the status quo, organisations can stay ahead of the competition and adapt to the ever-evolving business landscape.

Take the example of Apple, Inc. When Steve Jobs returned to lead the company, he didn’t just bring back experienced leaders; he sought out diverse talents, including designers, artists, and engineers. This blend of backgrounds and experiences fostered an environment where disruptive ideas could thrive, leading to iconic products like the iPhone and iPad.

Embracing the Fresh Perspective Advantage

So, what should organisations prioritise if experience is only part of the be-all and end-all of leadership? The answer lies in embracing the Fresh Perspective Advantage. Leaders with diverse backgrounds can offer a treasure trove of innovative ideas and solutions precisely because they don’t carry the baggage of industry conventions. The limitations of past experiences do not bind these leaders; they can approach problems with fresh eyes. By prioritising a diverse range of perspectives, organisations can tap into the untapped potential of their workforce and create a culture of innovation. This can lead to groundbreaking products and services that disrupt industries and propel companies to new heights of success. In addition, embracing diversity in the workforce fosters a sense of inclusion and belonging, which can significantly enhance employee engagement and productivity. When individuals from different backgrounds and cultures come together, they bring unique ideas and approaches that can spark creativity and collaboration. Moreover, diverse teams can better understand and serve a wide range of customers, leading to more effective and inclusive products and services. Ultimately, organisations prioritising diversity and fostering a culture of innovation will be better equipped to thrive in an ever-evolving and competitive business landscape.

Consider the case of IBM. They didn’t rely solely on computer scientists and engineers in their quest to develop Watson, the groundbreaking AI system. They brought in leaders from various fields, including healthcare and linguistics. These fresh perspectives allowed Watson to revolutionise healthcare diagnosis, language translation, and more. IBM’s decision to incorporate individuals from diverse backgrounds and disciplines enhanced the development of Watson and contributed to its widespread success and adoption across industries. By bringing together experts from different fields, IBM was able to combine their unique perspectives and insights, resulting in innovative solutions that addressed complex challenges. This example underscores the importance of embracing diversity and fostering a culture of collaboration and inclusion, as it can lead to groundbreaking advancements and competitive advantages in today’s fast-paced business environment.

Learning Through Unlearning

One of the paradoxes of leadership is that sometimes, to learn and innovate, you must first unlearn. Leaders steeped in industry expertise may need help to relinquish ingrained habits and perspectives. In contrast, leaders from various backgrounds frequently approach issues with a blank canvas and are unburdened by preconceived notions. This fresh perspective allows them to think outside the box and consider unconventional solutions that industry veterans may overlook. By unlearning old ways of thinking, leaders can open themselves up to new possibilities and push the boundaries of innovation. Embracing this paradox can lead to groundbreaking advancements and provide a competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced business environment. Leaders can tap into their creativity and explore uncharted territories by adopting a blank canvas mindset. They can question the status quo and challenge traditional practices, paving the way for disruptive ideas and revolutionary breakthroughs. This approach also fosters a culture of experimentation and continuous learning, enabling leaders and their teams to adapt quickly to changing market demands. Ultimately, embracing this paradox of unlearning and relearning can fuel innovation, drive growth, and ensure long-term success in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

Consider the automotive industry. Elon Musk’s Tesla challenged the status quo rather than adhering to conventional automotive wisdom. Musk, whose background spans technology, energy, and aerospace, challenged the very foundations of the auto industry, pushing electric vehicles into the mainstream. His boldness and willingness to question established norms led to the creation of innovative electric car models that revolutionised the industry and paved the way for a greener and more sustainable future. By unlearning traditional manufacturing methods and embracing new technologies, Musk demonstrated how relearning could lead to disruptive innovation. As a result, Tesla’s success has propelled the company to new heights and forced other automakers to reevaluate their strategies and invest in electric vehicle technology. This example highlights the importance of unlearning and relearning in driving growth and staying ahead in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

The Power of Diversity of Thought

Diversity in leadership isn’t just about gender, race, or nationality; it’s about diversity of thought. Having diverse perspectives and ideas at the decision-making table can lead to more innovative solutions and a deeper understanding of customer needs. When different voices are heard and valued, it fosters an environment that encourages creativity and challenges the status quo. Ultimately, organisation-wide diversity of thought is better equipped to adapt to changing market dynamics and drive sustainable growth in the long run. When organisations prioritise leaders with different experiences and perspectives, they unlock a powerful source of creativity and problem-solving. It’s the synergy of these diverse minds that propels innovation. Organisations can avoid groupthink and falling into stagnant thinking patterns by incorporating various perspectives. This diversity of thought leads to a more robust decision-making process, allowing for a thorough examination of all possibilities and potential outcomes. Moreover, when employees see that their unique viewpoints are valued and respected, it fosters a sense of belonging and promotes collaboration, resulting in a more harmonious and productive work environment. Ultimately, organisations that embrace diversity of thought are more likely to stay ahead of the curve, adapt to evolving market trends, and remain competitive in an increasingly globalised world.

A shining example of this is the multinational corporation 3M. They fostered a culture of innovation by encouraging their leaders to explore ideas beyond their core expertise. This approach led to the creation of Post-it Notes, Scotchgard, and other groundbreaking products originating from leaders’ diverse thinking. By embracing diversity of thought, 3M was able to tap into a range of perspectives and experiences, resulting in a continuous flow of fresh ideas. This not only allowed them to stay ahead of their competitors but also enabled them to adapt to changing customer needs and preferences. Their commitment to diversity and inclusion enhanced their reputation as a progressive company and strengthened their ability to navigate the complexities of a globalised marketplace. In addition, embracing diverse thinking fostered a culture of innovation within 3M. By encouraging employees to bring their unique viewpoints to the table, the company was able to foster creativity and problem-solving skills. This ultimately led to the development of groundbreaking products and solutions that addressed complex challenges in various industries. Moreover, the diverse workforce at 3M brought a better understanding of different markets and cultures, allowing the company to expand its global footprint and establish strong relationships with international partners. In conclusion, 3M’s commitment to diversity and inclusion propelled their success and positioned them as a leader in the ever-evolving global marketplace.


Ultimately, the key is not to view experience and diversity as opposing forces but as complementary elements. By weaving a tapestry of leaders with varied experiences and backgrounds, organisations can tap into the rich tapestry of ideas that drive progress and innovation. In a world where change is the only constant, leaders who can adapt, evolve, and think differently will be the ones to shape the future. Ultimately, organisations that embrace diverse leadership will have a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. These leaders bring unique perspectives and insights that can help drive innovation and disrupt traditional business models. By fostering an inclusive and collaborative culture, these organisations can attract top talent from all backgrounds, enabling them to stay ahead of the curve and navigate the complexities of an ever-evolving world. In this way, they can shape the future and maintain their position as leaders in the global marketplace.

While experience undeniably brings value to leadership, it should not be the sole criterion for selecting leaders. Diversity in leadership is crucial for bringing fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table. By considering a range of backgrounds and experiences, organisations can create a dynamic and forward-thinking leadership team that is better equipped to tackle future challenges. Additionally, prioritising diversity in leadership can help companies understand better and cater to a diverse customer base, ultimately driving business growth and success. Therefore, it is essential to look beyond experience alone when selecting leaders and embrace the power of diversity and inclusion. The myth of the expertise mirage, conformity, and the power of fresh perspectives highlight the limitations of experience-centric leadership. Instead, organisations should recognise the vital role of diversity in leadership to foster innovation, challenge the status quo, and navigate the ever-evolving landscape of the business world. After all, it’s not just about what leaders know; it’s about how they think.

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