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Don't Get Skunked: The Balance Between an Open Mind and Experience

Not knowing can prove mighty valuable sometimes


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“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”

—Heraclitus

The balance between experience and open-mindedness toward new ideas is interesting. “Been there done that;” “I’ve seen this show before;” “This ain’t my first rodeo.” “If I had a nickel for every time...” Those are voices born from experience, and we all feel good when we can apply past learnings to new situations. You don’t want the surgeon who’s never removed an appendix starting with you, right?

However, certainty can be the enemy of new perspective, and certainty is born from experience. “That won’t work” or the southern version – “That dog won’t hunt,” – aren’t appropriate responses to many situations.

I recently brewed a batch of beer with a friend who’d never brewed before. I’ve done quite a few and am confident in my processes. That didn’t stop my friend from suggesting something I hadn’t thought of. I wasn’t just confident, I was certain — and that can be a problem.

There are times when I coach an executive and am sure I know the answer to a sticky situation he or she might find themselves in. I truly believe that there isn’t much I haven’t seen. However, I’m often surprised at a new creative approach that comes from them, not me, that’s far superior to my gut impulse. I’m usually just smart enough not to blurt out what I believe to be the solution. Certainty must be tempered. Every situation is a little different.

Thomas Watson of IBM fame once declared, “I think that there’s only a worldwide market for about five computers.” Wilbur Wright said, “Not within 1,000 years will man ever fly.”

I fished a stretch of water recently on a creek that always produces good results, and I was certain it would again. I got skunked.

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