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Focus on What You Do & Tell us How you Did it

More from my promotion boards experience.

It is very important to describe positions well.  Generics just don’t do it. Never accept the same description as your predecessor or the same one that “like” officers have.  For example, saying that your PRT is one of 31 PRTs in Iraq w/o saying much (or anything) about the particulars is unhelpful and, IMO, indicates a certain intellectual flabbiness.  Also be very clear about who you manage, how many and what they do. Recognize that quality and diversity count.  Managing 100 low level employees who all do well established and similar things may not take as much leadership as running an operation with ten colleagues doing a variety of changing duties.

Experience counts in similar ways. It is possible – and I have seen – people get twenty years worth of experience in five years. It is also possible to get five (or less) years of experience in twenty years. Some people just repeat the same sorts of things. I suppose they are getting better at doing them, but it doesn’t add much to experience. It reminds me of watching CNN and hearing them claim that they have 24 hours of news each day. No.  What they often have is a half hour of news 48 times a day. Watching an endlessly repeating loop of the same event doesn’t add much to understanding. Experience can be that way too.

Of course, there is a caveat. There is always a caveat. You need to develop expertise and some specialties. Beyond that, simple variety also does not produce useful experience.  Focus is important. Ideally, experience should build on previous experience creating a capacity to do and understand more. Change for the sake of change makes no more sense that the opposite. 

Experience teaches, but learning is not automatic. If things just happen to you and you don’t think about them it may be useless energy spent. I was impressed when I could see how people learned from experience and applied it in analogous situations. This demonstrated not only that the experience was good, but also that the individual had the ability to reason by analogy and make reasonable distinctions among situations.

Finally, I am reminded of what Mark Twain said about not learning more lessons from an experience than it has to teach. The cat that sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again; of course he will not sit on a cool one either. 


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