The Research

We conducted over 50 interviews with managers asking them to identify a piece of work (work task) and then analyze using a structured framework how a particular individual who was inexperienced (new to the work task) approached the work and then analyze how a particular individual who was experienced approach the work.

We then conducted a similarly structured analysis with over 40 managers via online survey, going into greater depth on the behaviors and mindsets of inexperienced professionals vs. experienced professionals performing the same work task. In both of the above scenarios, managers were asked to rate the performance level of each person.

We then conducted an online survey of over 200 professionals, asking them to analyze how they approached work in a scenario where they were inexperienced versus one where they were experienced. We then analyzed the data, contrasting inexperienced professionals’ work approach and experienced professionals by performance level. We further surveyed approximately one thousand people from across a variety of industries, asking them to indicate the current level of challenge in their jobs and the current levels of satisfaction.

The Findings

The following summarizes of the key attributes of inexperienced versus experienced professionals for the top and bottom performing categories. The correlation analysis, from which the following conclusions are taken, was completed by an econometrician (MA in Financial Economics from Oxford University and MBA from Stanford University). Additionally, we found a strong correlation between “challenge level” at work and “satisfaction level at work. In other words, as the challenge level goes up, so does satisfaction. Unfortunately, job satisfaction plummets for those shielded from real challenge.

The Model

The Rookie Smarts model was developed as a summary of these findings and seeks to present the findings in a simple, memorable framework.

Implications and Messages

It is not the case that:
  • Rookies always outperform veterans
  • Experience is useless
  • Experienced people should always be “playing the rookie”

The key messages and assertions are:

  1. There are many circumstances in which inexperience is more valuable than experience.
  2. The rookies who perform at their best (and often outperform their experienced counterparts) share similar mindsets. Our research has uncovered these. Some people already have these mindsets. Perhaps they were born with them, or they were learned at their mother’s knee. But each of these mindsets is learnable and can be developed and cultivated. It is a matter of intention and work.
  3. This rookie mindset is a state that we should be able to conjure, to toggle to when we need it.
  4. The most experienced people can learn something from this breed of top-performing rookies. Instead of asking what these newcomers and relatively young people can be learning from those of us with years of experience, we should also be asking what we can be learning from the rookies.

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