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Experiences and mistakes

Keith Miles (Photo: Veronika Savnik)

By: Keith Miles

When I was growing up you often heard the phrase ‘does he have the experience’ or ‘what experience does he have’.

We all know that employers for important positions look at what experience the applicant has, and even then they often impose a probation period to make sure that the person’s experience fits the requirements of the company. We all also, when we are employing a craftsman, want to know what experience he has, and has he done a number of jobs similar to that which I want done.

This is why often the first couple of years after medical school when a doctor or dentist takes on a case the young newly qualified professional is supervised by an experienced senior. Similarly a trainee policeman learns alongside an experienced man. We also know that in the military a young officer will often ask the advice from a Sargent who has long experience.

Salesmen quickly learn from experience because often their salaries and bonuses depend on success.

The process of gaining experience is observation, correcting mistakes, taking advice, and continual education. It also is a learning process in which needs humility. Humility because we can all make mistakes and the quicker we acknowledge them the sooner we learn. Experience leads to   belief that we can all improve and learn something new. Scientists know that their experience is important in guiding researchers to get the most useful results

Private businessmen who have their own capital in a business know from experience that the quicker they recognise a mistake the quicker they limit any losses. Unfortunately this is not the case in state owned businesses, particularly those that have a monopoly or quasi monopoly position. They tend to start from the position of the Commissar in the Solzhenitsyn short story who said ‘We never make mistakes’.

Unfortunately this attitude is prevalent in public services across the world, not just in communist or socialist states. The procrastination on decisions and the fear of making mistakes often results in the bigger mistake of not getting to grips early with errors. Politicians are also often affected by the perceived need to never admit mistakes.

The adventurous spirit of the young and the caution gained from experience of the old was put most lucidly in an essay by Francis Bacon, an English philosopher. who has been described by Voltaire as the father of scientific method, because he believed that careful observation and inductive reasoning were the proper basis. He had an extensive career in government and was respected by many. He was described by Thomas Jefferson as being in the company of Locke and Newton ‘ the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception’. His proposals for law reform are considered to have greatly influenced the drafting of the Napoleonic Code.

Bacon said in his essay that in contrasting the young and old

‘Young men are fitter to invent than judge; fitter for execution than for counsel; and fitter for new projects than for settled business…..The errors of young men are the ruin of business; but the errors of aged men amount to this, that more might have been done, or sooner. Young men in business embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet…… Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full.., but content themselves with a mediocrity of success. Certainly its is good to compound employments of both; for that will be good for the present, because the virtues of either age may correct the defects of both, that young men may be learners, ….’

 A lot of wisdom in that essay which says that experience is important but the energy and errors of youth are important too. One might add that the youth must also learn from experience.

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