Anyone who has ever seen me speak or attended a workshop knows that experience is a big part of the storytelling equation, for the simple fact that:
When you speak from experience, no one can argue with you.
Experience is THE source of storytelling authority -- because whatever you've been through, you've BEEN through -- and no one can take that away, or decide it didn't happen.
Which is rather empowering, na?
However, after a recent conversation, I feel compelled to draw your attention to a BIG caveat around the power of past experience.
Under beautiful blue skies on a Saturday morning, after receiving a text request for a "courageous conversation," I joined a friend for a walk around Lake Merritt.
Coffees and savory scones in hand, she described the job that was slowly sucking her soul, and the performance review she was recently made to sit through, wherein her boss showed her a rubric that ranked her as "low in creativity" -- which she went on to clarify as "a good thing."
"Yes," my friend repeated, "she said it's good that I have low creativity, because it's not my job to be creative."
Now, this is someone I personally know to be very creative when she's confronted with a challenge and feels motivated to find a solution. So, after a momentary short-circuit, my brain mercifully came back online and I asked how she responded.
"Well," she shrugged, "I figure she has 20 years more experience than I do, so she must know what she's talking about."
Before we go any further, please don't get me wrong -- I have nothing but respect for the vast wisdom of those who came before, and we should all be humble about all that we don't know, and all that we don't KNOW we don't know.
But in such a rapidly changing world, those who have "been there and done that" are NOT exempt from uncertainty.
Just consider, for a moment, what the world was like twenty years ago.
In 1997, there were no smartphones -- there was no app for that. You couldn't Google or YouTube or Wiki that shit -- "Google" wasn't even a registered domain name. The US had never had a Black president or a female Speaker of the House. The twin towers still stood; there was no such thing as "the War on Terror" or "the Department of Homeland Security." We still trusted big banks to keep the global economy safe.
In a 2013 study at Oxford, researchers concluded that nearly half of all occupations in the United States are “potentially automatable,” perhaps within “a decade or two.”
And that was four years ago.
Of course, history suggests that as one job vanishes, another gets invented. Employment has already evolved from farms to factories to cubicles and call centers. This basic pattern is likely to continue, such that the jobs taken by robots will be supplanted by others in industries yet to be imagined. Humans are essentially adaptable; it's in our nature to cope with change.
And yet -- thanks to technology's law of accelerating returns -- we can also expect the next twenty years to contain exponentially more change with which to cope.
"Picture the entire Industrial Revolution compressed into the life span of a beagle."
Oh yeah -- and we still have climate change, global poverty, food and water instability, corruption in government, and conflicts raging all over the planet.
Our problems, like our lives, are only getting more complex. They cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them (said some smart guy once). Creativity is no longer a luxury; it is what's being demanded of us.
All of which begs the question:
When does "past experience" stop being an asset -- and start being a liability?
The next time you are tempted to doubt yourself because someone with twenty years more experience tells you, by way of dismissal, that it's just not done that way -- ask the question anyway.
It's EVERYONE'S job to be creative. We can't afford anything less.