Is Experience Overrated?

Give up the idea that you need training to succeed. In times like these, when the status quo seems stale, an outsider can be a savior—which can put women in the catbird seat.

By Amy Davidson
Photograph: photographed by Reinhard Hunger

So what are the ingredients of success for those who leap into a field in which they lack direct experience? For one thing, it can help to be a woman. Harvard’s Groysberg has studied the “portability” of skills, using a sample set of financial professionals. He found that even in moves between familiar settings, there tends to be a dip in performance as executives figure out things like “where the bodies are buried,” in his words. But there is an interesting caveat: “The dip is only applicable to men,” he says. “Star women do really well when they move.”
One reason for women’s exceptional resilience may be that they know how to build connections outside their firms, as when Kotchka reached out to the larger design world. “What I find is not that men and women build franchises differently because of innate differences,” says Groysberg. “Instead, women become more portable because they’ve faced institutional barriers.” In the financial industry, for example, women historically “found themselves unemployed faster than men” and missed benefits like the sharing of information in informal settings. Since resources and allies were harder to find, the women who succeeded had looked for them beyond the next cubicle. Says Groysberg: “Most women at the top are survivors.” Or as McGovern interprets it, “Never turn down the job no one else wants. You’ll learn a lot, and if you’re not challenged, you’re not growing.”  

Amy Davidson is a senior editor at the New Yorker.


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First Published February 3, 2011

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Jasmine Black05.08.2011

The article referred to below is, " 13 Things You Should Know By Now," by the More editors, published in October 2006. Nadia Ghaleb was offering the advice.

Jasmine Black05.08.2011

I was wondering if anyone had good suggestions for songs that help create a mood for them when they must meet a crowd of new people. I read an article (More October 2006) about how to work a room and the suggestion was to get yourself into a good headspace by watching old movies. Music does that for me.

Susan 03.06.2011

Excellent article, well written.

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