In relatively stable work environments, such as construction or healthcare, experience still matters quite a lot. Would you want to be treated by a surgeon who has not performed any surgery yet? However, in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambigue) world, we see that developments are so rapid and work environments change so quickly that 85% of the current knowledge is outdated after five years. Therefore, learning is becoming increasingly more important than knowledge, and that is exactly what rookies are good at.
What characterizes a rookie? The lack of experience. A limitation which they then skillfully succeed to turn to their advantage. They are passionate and want to make a difference. To be successful, they need others. With this intrinsic motivation, they eagerly and enthusiastically go seeking the necessary knowledge and expertise to resolve complex issues. They continuously push the limits of their own abilities.
Thanks to their self-confidence and open-mindedness, they diverge from the existing paths and unwritten rules – simply because they don’t know these rules yet. They just start asking – simple and critical – questions to relevant stakeholders and experts and frequently ask for feedback. By cleverly combining the gathered information, they often come up with innovative ideas and they know how to expose fine gaps or conflicts. They make the difference precisely through these qualities, both in content and relationship.
What is the strength of routineers? Their vast knowledge and (life-)experiences that makes them understand new situations quickly and often without consciously thinking about it. They act fast and effectively using an arsenal of previously proven successful methods.
They are guided by a highly developed intuition; our brain rapidly uses previous experience in the current context to distinguish main from side issues and to come to a conclusion. Due to this ability to connect previous experiences and insights, and build on them, routineers are strong in generating new ideas and often act with political expediency. This mastery makes them extremely effective in certain circumstances.
Experience is valuable, but its value is also often overestimated. In contrast, the value of inexperience is often underestimated. A key success factor is how inexperienced employees think and work to compensate for their lack of experience. This is not only valid for them but for everyone who wants to be successful in this VUCA world. Leadership guru Liz Wiseman calls this way of thinking and working "rookie smarts":
"Rookie smarts" is a choice, a mindset. It does not matter how old you are or how much experience you have, you can always begin (again) to think with the openness and agility of a rookie. The routineer who is able to, depending on what the situation requires, switch between a rookie and a routineer mindset is extremely successful.
The best performing "rookies" turn out to be experienced leaders who have made a career switch and provide leadership in a domain that is new to them (a new role, an unknown field). They then apply the best of two worlds into their new role: the intuitive quick understanding of what is going on and the experience to act effectively with the ability to ask simple questions, to learn fast, to see new opportunities and to build networks.
From an organisational perspective, the trick is to put the right person or the right team in the right place at the right time. In VUCA environments that are rapidly evolving and with too much information to be dealt with by one individual, inexperienced staff can often make a difference. In situations where a mistake is irreparable, the deployment of inexperienced staff is unacceptably risky. Consider, for example, an operation theatre, a tandem jump or installing a new piece of software organisation-wide.
Without proper management and supervision rookies can be dangerous to themselves and others. Properly guided, they will however make a difference to the organisations they work for. The best of both emerges when rookies are guided at the beginning of their career by experienced colleagues with a "rookie" mentality.