Why experience can suck


20 years’ experience: or 1 year’s experience repeated 19 times?

Don’t get me wrong: I have lots of experience. About 30 years’ worth in my business. But what is it worth? Not much in itself. Yes, that’s right. Why? Because experience is only worth what experience does – not what it is.

We’ve all heard the jokes about someone who claims to have 20 years’ experience where in fact what they really have is one year’s experience repeated 19 times.

A bit cruel, perhaps. But experience often has a sell-by date.

Consider my experience in video production, for example

In the dim dark ages I produced umpty-dump corporate and educational TV programs involving hideously complex and expensive technology and which at the time required weeks’ worth of post-production time in luxurious edit suites in central London (England).

Today you can achieve the same quality of program with simple kit and one or two people on (admittedly sophisticated) laptops. You need a good quality video camera (or even a good quality video option in a fancy cellphone) plus a quality microphone – yes, despite modern technology, camera-based microphones still give poor results – but that’s all. Oh, yes, and whoever holds the quality cellphone needs to have a steady hand.

Result? Same visual quality. For a fraction of the earlier cost.

Now consider my experience in audio-visual extravaganzas

Ahhh, this is where I go all nostalgic and think back to my very old days in the visual comms business when companies would spend 7-figure (GBPs) sums on all-singing, all dancing spectaculars where film was played back incorporated with 64 or more “magic lantern” 35mm stills projectors along with early surround-sound. Of course it’s “clunky” now and laughable when you think of the sheer, laborious programming and implementation.

But by Heavens, did those shows ever smack audiences hard in the face…! Because of the sheer screen size required for projection of that magnitude, and the sheer theater size required to make it happen, such shows were by definition huge and spectacular.

Writing scripts for such shows was a challenge

With such complex “multi-media” (as it was called then) stuff going on with the visuals, the sound track had to be equally grand. With budgets being so unrestricted I could hire in the actors, singers, comedians and other artistes of my dreams for these corporate events and blend the whole thing into an audio extravaganza that did the visual elements proud.

I loved it. What a fabulous chance to throw my own creative chutzpah around and create brilliant effects, even if we were talking about a computer company or a car marque?

But what does all add up to now?

In itself, diddly squat.

What can all this “experience” do for us now?


A fabulous chance to throw
my creative chutzpah around

With technology having changed dramatically and budgets having been squeezed until their eyes water, experience of having written and produced corporate video and “live marketing” events like these is not only useless, but also irrelevant.

But wait a minute. There are some contemporarily useful bits of experience we can extrapolate from all that. (Sorry about the long words, but don’t you think they’re cool? :-))

And this doesn’t just apply to moi, either. It can apply to anyone who wants to hunt for usable, portable skills from a selection of obsolete activities.

Experience of managing a team. Working as writer/producer or assistant producer on a video or live marketing production involved managing anything up to 50 people, all performing skilled tasks. Most were freelancers, and managing those can be like herding cats. Working with a team today, for me, is not just a pleasure – I find it easy, especially as modern business communication projects are smaller.

Experience of project management. Conference production, especially, involved everything from writing the scripts to ordering the transport vehicles and drivers. Often we would run several events as a roadshow, with business meetings during the day and dinner/cabaret in the evening. We would be up early in the morning to rehearse new speakers, run the show during the day, set up the after dinner speeches, cabaret and disco, strike the set at about 02:00 hrs, load the trucks and drive off to the next city. Needless to say these days if I’m asked to put together an exhibition or business event, I feel right at home with it…

Experience of budget control. Many of our video and show budgets ran well into 6 figures (GBPs) and some into 7 figures. The rules of budget control are the same now as when I learned them. And those rules apply whether your budget is USD $1,000,000 or $1,000.

Experience of writing, even under pressure. Writing is writing is writing, whenever it happens. Having written very good speeches for clients, pretty quickly, while sitting back stage whacking a laptop as crew members hauled cables and hammered sets around me, I know I can write effectively anywhere.

So does experience suck after all?

blog,writing,news,blogging,business,Suzan St Maur,howtowritebetter.net,how to write betterI suspect the answer is that provided you bring forward the right types of experience and regrind them for their modern equivalents, it doesn’t suck at all – quite the opposite.

But where experience can  suck is with people who either can’t or don’t want to strip out the obsolete stuff as soon as it becomes obsolete and keep refocusing on a regular basis. People like this hang on to outdated experience and try to make it fit new challenges, but it doesn’t work.

What do you think? Please share your wisdom.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc
photo credit: Wootang01 via photopin cc




  1. Interesting. I’d normally think experience is a good thing (or can be). However whilst reading your blog I was reminded of one of my favourite sayings which is potentially contradicting that.

    “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”

    So, is using experience leading you to doing what you’ve always done (or at least thinking in the same way)?

  2. Well, what I’ve done with the experience I’ve had in the past is to whittle it all down to some basic skills like leading a team and managing a project, and those concepts don’t really change as much as the peripherals do. But when it comes to writing skills and approaches, I try to keep well on top of current trends and inclinations. I think what matters here is common sense, really.

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