Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work Hardcover – Oct 14 2014
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“Given the author’s experience it’s no shock that she offers an exceptional guide to staying vital in the changing marketplace. . . . For readers who are struggling to catch up with changing business needs, this book is a must read.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Wiseman masterfully shows why novices can outdo veterans, expertise blinds us to fresh ideas, and the brilliance of newbies remains untapped. With sage insights and fascinating examples, Rookie Smarts is a must-read.” (Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take)
Rookie Smarts gives you a practical roadmap to rediscovering the open, curious, creative mind inside you. 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. and author of Work Rules!)
Agility, resilience, grit, and a growth mindset--these are the skills effective leaders need in a changing world. In Rookie Smarts, Wiseman shows leaders at every age and at every stage of their careers how to master these skills (Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor of Business, University of Michigan & Partner, the RBL Group)
Wiseman’s brilliant and unusually imaginative gem shows you how to keep learning and questioning even your most prized beliefs, how to avoid becoming a boring clone condemned to marching in lock-step with your equally dull colleagues, and how to build vibrant workplaces (Robert Sutton, Stanford Professor and co-author of Scaling Up Excellence)
“…both a rich and rewarding read and a practical guide for individual leaders and for those responsible for developing talent in their organization.” (Developing Leaders)
From the Back Cover
Is it possible to be at your best even when you are underqualified or doing something for the first time? Is it still possible, even after decades of experience, to recapture the enthusiasm, curiosity, and fearlessness of youth to take on new challenges? With the right mindset—with Rookie Smarts—you can.
In a rapidly changing world, experience can be a curse. Careers stall, innovation stops, and strategies grow stale. Being new, naïve, and even clueless can be an asset. For today's knowledge workers, constant learning is more valuable than mastery.
In this essential guide, leadership expert Liz Wiseman explains how to reclaim and cultivate the curious, flexible, youthful mindset called Rookie Smarts. Wiseman reveals the different modes of the rookie mindset that lead to success:
- Backpacker: Unencumbered, rookies are more open to new possibilities, ready to explore new terrain, and don't get stuck in yesterday's best practices.
- Hunter-Gatherer: Rookies seek out experts and return with ideas and resources to address the challenges they face.
- Firewalker: Lacking situational confidence, rookies take small, calculated steps, moving fast and seeking feedback to stay on track.
- Pioneer: Keeping things simple and focusing on meeting core needs, rookies improvise and work tirelessly while pushing boundaries.
Rookie Smarts addresses the questions every experienced professional faces: Will my knowledge and skills become obsolete and irrelevant? Will a young, inexperienced newcomer upend my company or me? How can I keep up? The answer is to stay fresh, keep learning, and know when to think like a rookie.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Why did Wiseman write Rookie Smarts? She explains: "This book is about living and working perpetually on a learning curve. It is about why we do our best work when we are new to something, striving up that steep ascent." This is especially important now when new information is vast, fast, and fleeting. Her book is also for leaders of organizations who must ensure their workforce remains vital and competitive. It is for corporate talent management, learning, and coaching professionals who must ensure the talent inside their organization is engaged and vibrant." Rookies are those who have little (if anything) to unlearn and little (if any) prior experience when assigned to a task, duty, or responsibility that is totally unfamiliar to them. Many managers need the information, insights, and counsel that Wiseman provides in this book if they know little (if anything) and have little (if any) prior experience insofar as supervising rookies is concerned.Read more ›
In this book, Wiseman argues forcefully and convincingly that in the modern world the greatest strength will be the ability to be intellectually agile. She defines “rookie smarts” to be the intelligence inherent in “being ignorant”, in other words a lack of knowledge and experience forces the person to learn quickly. Such a situation also means that the person does not have rigid preconceived ideas on how things are to be done so they are capable of thinking in new ways.
The strongest argument for rookie smarts is the reality that knowledge of a field is decaying even more rapidly in the modern world. If you are not involved in continuous updates of your knowledge base, most expert knowledge is obsolete within four years. Therefore, if a rookie arrives and studies the latest material for a few months, this in combination with the rotting of an experienced person’s skills that are not being refreshed means that there is not that much difference in their skill levels.
Wiseman puts forward several examples of people that continuously re-invented themselves in the sense that they walked into situations where they did not know what they were doing and they knew it. In many cases they were the first to admit it.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Wiseman, a management consultant and businesswoman of varied CV, covers much the same ground Shane Snow and Jack Hitt explored recently. However, where Snow and Hitt are journalists, Wiseman, an entrepreneur and researcher, brings hard analytical sophistication to her process. She makes a persuasive case that, in disciplines where innovative thinking matters, new players and career shifters bring strategic advantages which credentialed experts often miss.
Rookies accomplish this, Wiseman writes, through aggressive networking, diversifying the knowledge base, and seeking guidance where needed. Wiseman writes: "Aware of his [sic] own lack of knowledge, the rookie embarks on a desperate, focused, diligent search, hunting for experts who can teach him and guide his way." Oh, wait, so experts really are necessary? Rookies benefit from their willingness to defer to experience?
That suggests, not that rookies beat veterans, but that rookies and veterans need one another, forming a symbiotic relationship where each advances the other. Indeed, where each lacks the other, catastrophic consequences frequently ensue. Untutored newbies created the Clinton-era tech stock bubble. Grizzled old hands with minimal tendency to ask plainspoken questions tanked the financial and housing sectors. Imagine if either had simply shown basic willingness to listen.
Shane Snow addressed this very topic (I had significant problems with Snow, but this wasn't one). Though one-on-one mentorships tend to perpetuate old habits, a diffuse program where senior workers counsel up-and-comers encourages newbies to take chances, learn more, and do better. Though neither Snow's journalism nor Wiseman's research proves it, common sense suggests such relationships also keep veterans open to rookies' innate wide-eyed wonder.
Further, Wiseman repeatedly extols "humility" as a rookie virtue. Rookies, she insists, are naturally humble, where veterans are cocksure, shunning advice. I say: can be. We've all known noobs who accept, even solicit, guidance, and pundits who talk without listening. We've also known old warhorses who maintain the cheerful mindset of perpetual students, and novices who prove the adage, "A little learning is a dangerous thing."
In my varied career, I've seen:
- Apprentice actors who argue with directors, believing themselves unrecognized Pacinos;
- Freshman Comp students who demand top marks because they received all A's in high school;
- Recent nursing graduates who unilaterally countermand doctors' orders;
- Graduate students picking fights with otherwise generous professors in defense of theories discredited decades ago;
- Writing workshop participants who eagerly give criticism, but turn deaf when receiving it; and
- Factory noobs who need bandages or splints because they reach around basic safeguards.
And I must admit, at various times, these people have been me.
Wiseman talks up "green belt syndrome," a martial arts term for student fighters who, having received their first Dan rank, believe themselves born samurai. Wiseman clearly thinks this makes them scrappy and indomitable. But martial artists call it a "syndrome" deliberately: GBS sufferers frequently pick fights they're unqualified to win, jeopardizing themselves and others. Some people require periodic ass-beatings to instill needed humility.
So, if neither rookie humility nor teamwork are foregone conclusions, what remains? Neither innocence nor experience seems sufficient, whether from common sense nor Wiseman's exposition. Indeed, from Wiseman's own evidence, I draw a contrasting conclusion, the necessity of all stages within complex organizations. Apprentice triumphalism is as unwarranted as professional self-satisfaction. Rookies need expert guidance; veterans need unfiltered newbie eyes.
Even Wiseman acknowledges this early: "Rookie smarts isn't defined by age or by experience level," she writes; "it is a state of mind." Complex organizations benefit from occasional transfusions of fresh blood, whether from new hires or internal reshuffles. This doesn't mean putting your best shellbacks to pasture, because new blood needs old. But it does require never becoming so enamored of past triumph that you miss the approaching future.
In my favorite quote, Wiseman writes, "What we know might mask what we don't know and impede our ability to learn and perform." I agree; I've seen Taylorist managers submarine their own operations by refusing floor-level advice. But that doesn't make the diametrical opposite true. Wiseman's so focused on rookie contributions that she apparently misses the two-way nature of the relationship.
The problem is that these distinctions seem arbitrary. Often you don’t know you’re in the game-ending realm until it’s too late and you can have some pretty serious misadventures along the way. And some game-ending situations seems to be best solved by creative rookies.
The distinction between “rookie” and “veteran” also seems arbitrary and at times comes close to ageism. Indeed, Wiseman talks about managing millenials as examples of rookies. To be fair, she writes about a woman who returned to school after her children were grown, gaining a math teaching credential in record time. However, I’m not so sure that example is about being a rookie, but about determination and excitement.
I would liked to see a 2×2 matrix – young/veteran, young/rookie, older/veteran, older/rookie, where “young” and “old” are industry-defined. My hunch is that young/rookie and older/veteran combos get rewarded, appreciated and respected a lot more than the other option.
It’s also true that performance-based fields tend to reward rookies based on merit. In the 1914 WNBA season, rookies like Shoni Shimmel, Chiney Ogumwike, and Kayla McBride have played starring roles.
But these fields also reward veterans. Wiseman writes about Paul Westhead’s rookie coaching decision to play Magic Johnson in a key game. She might have added that Westhead coached the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, when he was about 68 years old. He took the Mercury to a championship. In an interview, Diana Taurasi was asked who she’d learned from; she immediately named Paul Westhead.
At the other extreme, Dawn Staley was named head coach of Temple U’s women’s basketball team, with no coaching experience – not even as an assistant coach. One of her players now is a star in the WNBA (Candice Dupree) and she now serves as head coach at South Carolina.
Dawn’s story isn’t typical. Many companies (especially universities) demand veterans. In some places, if you want to be a director of a program, you must have directed the exact same type of program elsewhere. You might get the opportunity if you’re working.
So bottom line, the book raises some interesting questions, but would be much stronger if the premise had not rested on a sharp "either/or" dichotomy.
I will say Rookie Smarts is again the right book at the right time in my current situation. It categorizes some advantages of the Rookie mentality, but unlike the other reviewers who found ageism within the book - I found quite the opposite: Liz states "The highest-performing rookies were most often in executive roles. These were smart, seasoned executive who had made internal or external career moves and were now leading in a new domain." The book is a reminder to not be complacent and to be open to new ideas regardless of where you are in your career. This brings to mind the old question do you have "20 years of experience", or "1 year of experience 20 times".
Rookie Smarts is full of engaging stories to demonstrate the ideas presented, and contains useful tools in the appendix.
A closing quote from the book (which again demonstrates to me it is NOT about "age"): "Rookie Smarts isn't an age or an experience level; it is a state of mind - one that is available to those willing to unlearn and relearn. It is a choice." I would recommend you choose to read it for yourself.
Why did Wiseman write Rookie Smarts? She explains: "This book is about living and working perpetually on a learning curve. It is about why we do our best work when we are new to something, striving up that steep ascent." This is especially important now when new information is vast, fast, and fleeting. Her book is also for leaders of organizations who must ensure their workforce remains vital and competitive. It is for corporate talent management, learning, and coaching professionals who must ensure the talent inside their organization is engaged and vibrant." Rookies are those who have little (if anything) to unlearn and little (if any) prior experience when assigned to a task, duty, or responsibility that is totally unfamiliar to them. Many managers need the information, insights, and counsel that Wiseman provides in this book if they know little (if anything) and have little (if any) prior experience insofar as supervising rookies is concerned.
Wiseman shares the results of a survey conducted by members of her research team. They studied almost 400 workplace scenaria, comparing and contrasting the performance "rookies" and "veterans" while completing various work assignments. As she explains, "We defined a rookie as someone who had never done that type of work and a veteran as someone who had previous experience with that type of work -- both regardless of their age." Their work yielded four surprising observations:
"First, rookies are strong performers...performing at a slightly higher level than veterans. Second, rookies have a unique success profile: They were fast to act, marshaled resources, found simple solutions, persisted along a path, and focused on solving the right problem. Third, rookies aren't always what they seem. They listen more, are more likely to ask for help, believe they have a lot more to learn, and learn faster." Finally, experience creates dangerous blind spots. Our analysis identified a number of areas where experience created blinders that narrowed the veteran's focus and kept him stuck in a rut. With experience some habits, and once we form a habit, our brain stops working."
Wiseman discusses all this in Chapter 1, Pages 25-26.
Here's my take:
1. It is much easier to learn than to unlearn. Hence the importance of hiring intelligence and character, then providing whatever training may be necessary.
2. There is great value in cross-functional training (at least in basics) so that those trained increase their understanding -- and [begin] appreciation [end] -- of what their associates are expected to do. Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots has done this for years to increase "bench strength." For example, he has defensive backs become familiar with offensive plays so that they can fill in at running back or wide receiver, if needed. Also, on the offensive line, he expects everyone to be able to play guard, tackle, or center, if needed.
3. A healthy organization is a "total learning" organization. There is always something new to learn about what to do and how to do it. Therefore, knowledge may have a limited shelf life but learning skills do not. In fact, frequent use strengthens them.
These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Wiseman's coverage in the first four of eight chapters:
o The New Workscape (Pages 6-10)
o A Question of Experience (20-22)
o The Learned and the Learners (22-24)
o The Rookie Smart Mindset: Backpacker, Hunter-Gatherer, Firewalker, and Pioneer (27-34)
o The Right Terrain (34-38)
o The Fountain of Wishful Thinking (41-42)
o Caretakers Versus Backpackers (47-53)
o The Backpacker's Way (53-65)
o Building Rookie Smarts (65-68)
o Local Guides Versus Hunter-Gatherers (75-84)
o The Hunter-Gatherer's Way (84-92)
o Building Rookie Smarts (92-95)
o Seekers and Finders (95-96)
o Marathoners Versus Firewalkers (101-107)
o The Firewalker's Way (107-118)
o Building Rookie Smarts (118-119)
In Chapters 5-8, Wiseman discusses Pioneers, The Perpetual Rookie, Rookie Revival, and The Rookie Organization, followed by six appendices in which she provides a wealth of invaluable supplementary material about the research process, FAQs, learning experiments, learning itineraries, Rookies and perpetual Rookies, and a discussion guide that can serve as a "fire starter," including kindling and sparks to keep the conversation "blazing."
When concluding her brilliant book, Liz Wiseman observes, "Rookie smarts isn't an age or experience level; it is state of mind -- one that is available to those willing to unlearn and relearn. It is also a choice. As the world of work speeds up, we can either slow down and get left behind, or we can quicken our step and keep up. It is a choice between the dull ache of stagnation and the short-lived discomfort of unlearning what has worked for us in the past, and then relearning what we need to know now."
In this context, I am again reminded of a situation years ago, after a substantial tuition increase, Harvard's then president, Derek Bok, was besieged by irate parents who demanded an explanation. His response? "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."
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