The Surprising Secret To Performing At Your Best

Originally published by Dorie Clark in Forbes. November 20th, 2014.

"We all know the secret to success: learn your craft, gain experience, and then execute flawlessly, again and again. But what if experience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? “The rookie space is actually where we tend to do our best work, rather than our worst work,” says Liz Wiseman, author of the new book Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. She argues that true excellence comes from professionals who are willing to risk putting themselves into new situations where they can learn and grow. It’s not just about the Zen concept of ‘beginners’ mind’ and seeing problems in new ways, she says. “It’s almost like desperation-based learning, which is, I think, the most powerful form of learning.”

“I found that inexperienced people bring in five times the amount of expertise to a problem…they’re gathering it in from other people because they lack it themselves – which means they tend to bring in more current expertise,” says Wiseman. “They operate in very lean, agile ways. I call this ‘fire-walker mode.’ They’re very cautious because they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re reading signals. They’re listening to their stakeholders. They’re seeking feedback…They end up out-performing experienced people when it comes to knowledge work, innovation and speed of deliverables. Those are the areas where they tend to do amazing things. They operate in these hungry, scrappy ways.”

A rookie mindset isn’t just for recent grads, however. “Where I think this can be easily misunderstood is [people often think] that “rookie = young person,” she says. “I think it’s easy to say that millennials bring a certain kind of thing and if you’re not a millennial, you’re a has-been. But it’s just not the case at all.”

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  • “Wiseman (co-author: The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, 2014, etc.) provides a big boost for first-time employees and others who refuse to be bound by arbitrary limits. . . .An exciting promotion of lifelong discovery and enthusiasm as answers to routine and business as usual.”
    Kirkus Reviews
  • “As a company grows, nothing is more important than retaining a culture of innovation. Rookie Smarts shows how even a big company can take risks, innovate, and operate like a challenger.”
    MARC BENIOFF
    Chairman and CEO, Salesforce.com
  • “Agility, resilience, grit, and a growth mindset—these are the attributes effective leaders need in a changing world. Rookie Smarts shows leaders at every age and at every stage of their careers how to master these skills.”
    DAVE ULRICH
    University of Michigan professor and author of Leadership Sustainability
  • “If you want to be a learning machine, improving and growing every year, this is the book for you.”
    LASZLO BOCK
    SVP of People Operations, Google, Inc.