Experience is Overrated by Stewart Livingstone "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs June 06 2020 True Experience, mtp engage manchester, product career, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 512 Product Management 2.048

Experience is Overrated by Stewart Livingstone


In his career journey from working in Learning and Development to being an Agile Delivery Manager at the Co-Op, Stewart Livingstone has seen the talent gap from multiple angles. In this MTP Engage Manchester talk, he and brings a refreshing perspective to this particular issue – one of the tech industry’s age-old problems.

Organisations struggle to get the right talent into teams, but it doesn’t have to be this painful. Our teams all suffer from skill shortages and, while we’re paying premiums to get the skills we need as fast as possible, the disappointing reality is that the diversity in our workforce is most definitely not improving at the pace we would hope or imagine.

Loving the Idea, not the Reality

With a short parable about dragons, Stewart explains that while many of us fall in love the with the neatly-presented abstract idea of something (imagined dragons), we find the messy, chaotic reality (an actual dragon) quite terrifying.

Ironically, as product people, we haven’t solved one of the biggest problems facing us as an industry – skills shortages, and rich diversity of talent. We often talk about ways we might improve the situation, but we fall short of fully committing ourselves to changing the way we hire and develop people.

We’re often scared of the moment when theory becomes practice. We fall in love with the idea of something, but we fear that we’re not resilient enough to push through the messy reality of it. It’s so much easier to stay in the land of theory and hypothesis, and to never have failed. So Stewart asks an important question: When rhetoric becomes reality, are we running away scared?

Removing our Dependency on Experience

The critical question to ask is “When there’s a talent shortage, how important is experience?” Truth be told, valuing experience over attitude can be disastrous. It can lead to you bringing toxic personalities and practices into your organisation, and it’s also a really short-term strategy – people are generally looking to have their skills stretched, and if you can’t provide that experience gap for them to close, they’ll look elsewhere.

You don’t hire for skills; you hire for attitude. You can always teach skillsSimon Sinek

Drawing on his rich experience in Learning and Development, Stewart sketches out a quick mental model for how we might get people role-ready and doing important work as quickly as possible. Unsurprisingly, it’s not rocket science, but it does rely on us adjusting our thinking to accept that experience is something that organisations can teach, while attitude (and a desire to tackle certain challenges) is the real value that people bring to their roles:

  1. Re-think what it is you think you need to make your organisation successful.
  2. Review what Learning and Development and “stretch” opportunities you’re already providing people.
  3. Renew and Retrain your people, ensuring that the programs that you have in place are actually finding and nurturing the talent and attitudes you need in your team and organisation.