February 16, 2024
Few of you are old enough to know why today’s title resonates with us old timers. Back in 1969, long before the kneeling protests, Jimi Hendrix pegged the controversy meter with his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Are You Experienced was an earlier studio album by the legendary guitarist. The title came to mind while reflecting on my previous post on a need for “experienced machinists.” All the classroom training and all the internet tutorials in the world will not make you “experienced.” There is just no way to short cut the “time in grade” needed to become the type of operator or engineer that can handle anything that is thrown at them. Malcom Gladwell famously posited that it took 10,000 hours to master a skill (Outliers, 2008, Little, Brown, & Co.) I am pretty sure he just made it up, but it has also been pointed out that plenty of people spend 10,000 hours playing golf and still stink at it. So there has to be something more than just “practice” to become proficient. It makes sense to add a bit of talent, proper training, or coaching — and an actual passion for whatever you are doing — to that 10,000 hours. Even then, the practice has to be properly structured and sufficiently diversified to prepare you for a future in a particular field. Let’s stick with the golf analogy; not that I actually did after breaking a club, losing six balls, and getting struck by another duffer’s errant shot in one 9-hole round. If you want to be a professional golfer, you cannot do all your rounds on the same course, in the same kind of weather, and stretch out the 10,000 hours by playing once a month. You have to devote days at a time, at least 36 holes a day, on a variety of courses, in all kinds of weather, over a compressed period of time. Too many resumes are the manufacturing equivalent of nine holes on the same pitch-and- putt course during the summer months. These applicants do not actually have ten years of experience — they just repeated the same year ten times (sort of like the definition of insanity). They are very good at that narrow range of tasks, but struggle when required to “play a different course.” One definition of an “expert” is someone who knows “more and more about less and less.” If you are not stretching yourself to learn new things every day, and instead grow comfortable “staying in your lane,” you can eventually find yourself obsolete and out of work. Our industry needs professionals who can quickly adapt to changing market conditions. The future will surely be different than the present or the past, but experience will help you deal with those changes.