How Experience Blinds You

Day 38: New Glasses
Image by whereleaureensmiles

Sight creates a visual imprint. This is the way things are.

Though we depend on it, sight is perhaps the most deceiving of the senses. As an amateur photographer I know this. I can tell just by the way the same place will look different everyday depending on the weather and placement of the sun.

Experience reminds me of glasses, both help you see life better. But like corrected vision, experience can deceive us.

The problem with experience is how it changes your perspective, good and bad. You see things differently.

And then many of us make a classic mistake: Interpreting personal experience for universal wisdom.

Experience, the Unreliable Crutch


Image by Gros Plante

Yes, with experience you can navigate life better, avoid the mistakes of youth, and generally have an easier time. In this sense, experience helps you. You improve because of it (though perhaps you become less mirthful).

But it brings negative things, too.

First is the loss of innocence. Naivety falls to the side.

You see patterns, behaviors emerge (yours and theirs), and you avoid them. Making the same mistakes of the past — while so damn attractive — just can’t happen again. Once bitten, twice shy.

That same knowledge causes you to “know better.” You really don’t, at least not all the time, but you think you do.

There lies the second danger, the arrogance of experience.

You see this all the time online with social media experts who declare “the right way,” and then criticize and look down on others for doing it “the wrong way.”

We’re talking about a medium, an open canvas. Further, how can innovation occur within such tight constraints (more on this tomorrow)?

Yes, I do own a glass house in this sense. I also know that I’ve been wrong several times in lording my “mighty” social media experience over people.

Differentiating Experience and Wisdom

Image by wtl photos

Experience does not equate to wisdom. Wisdom is the demonstrative application of experience, not the telling of it.

The Internet is full of folks who will tell you right and wrong, but few will show you with their own actions, or respect other methods.

Showing, not telling, is one of the reasons I periodically engage in a public marketing campaign.

For that very same reason, I increasingly seek to offer my opinion of others’ actions only when asked. When I blog about what works, I take great pain to limit my observations to my experience or someone else’s case study.

Finally, experience tricks you into thinking that you don’t have to change your ways. You become unteachable.

Here, wisdom comes into play again. If you know that things always change, you remain open to new ways, others’ opinions and different methods, and evolve.

Further, wisdom lets you see that different actions may also produce a good result.

You realize in the end that you know only a little. You remain open, and adapt.

What do you think of experience?


  • Geoff,

    I like this ” Wisdom is the demonstrative application of experience, not the telling of it.”

    How true that experience robs us of our innocence and naivete. Imagine the world through the eyes of a child. Everything is new and each experience is fresh. No prejudice, no preconceived notions; true wonderment at everything around us. Every day is a first day.

    It is human nature to compare this to that and yesterday to today. How sad that everything must be measured against something that came before. Why not evaluate and appreciate everything on its own merits?


    • I agree. It’s one of the beautiful things about having a child, and seeing the innocence of the world through her eyes. Everything is new and fresh and beautiful (or not).

      Experience can guide us from making the same mistakes, but it is apparent to me as I get older that it cannot be the sole barometer.

  • The entire Social Media Experience has humbled me; it’s ever changing nature means none of us are experts, and I’ve grown to like that.

    I will redouble my efforts to remain teachable.

    • I agree, those that have staid on certain principles have found themselves irrelevant in shockingly short periods of time!

  • I liked this post. Experience can be a great resource but it can divide people because it isn’t always as broad or comprehensive as we want it to be.

    Sometimes bad experiences impact the clarity of our view regarding opportunities and we refrain from trying them out because “experience” suggests it was bad and doesn’t distinguish between whether there were issues the last time that have been corrected.

    The converse is true too. What once worked may not because circumstances have changed.

    • You mean baggage? Baggage? I got no baggage!!! LOL!

      It’s true, experience can be deceiving with what worked in the past. I definitely learned that the hard way with blogging.

  • This is a good reminder to always take “best practices” with a grain of salt.

    • Always good to listen, and sometimes break rank. If you break rank, you have to realize the risk, too ;)

  • I say that the one thing you can’t fast-track is experience. Experience doesn’t make you wise, but wisdom can come from experience IF you combine that experience with an open mind to lifelong learning.

    I don’t agree that experience makes you think you don’t have to change your ways, or that you become unteachable. That’s a mindset, not due to or caused by experience, but from a place of arrogance.

    A wise person realizes they are where they are as a result of where they’ve been, but that in no way forecasts where they will go. Experience is an excellent teacher, but lessons are lifelong and never ending. It is a folly to believe that “been there, done that” equates to wisdom. Wisdom is the combination of experience, insight, curiosity, open-mindedness, empathy and a desire to “solve problems” and be of service, rather than “be right”. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Well said, Kaarina. I’d have to agree with your amendment to the post, that’s an attitude or a mindset, not the actual experience of having experience.

  • I completely agree with you. Its often a feeling that you are told by bosses, professors and everyone elder to you that they know more than you. Yes they have the experience but I have found that most of it was true in those times, in other conditions. Parts of those may still apply but they have be seen with new lights. Now that I am entering 35 soon, I would need to be careful about forcing my point of view. on to others.
    Fortunately new generation is more informed and well read and they don’t take advices on face value. It is better to guide them and let them think for themselves.
    Experience is not equal to wisdom , true,

    • AShvini:

      The we generation is very powerful in that sense. They value collective experience above me, and that makes them special.

      I do think it’s funny that as I have gotten older how important it has become to share my experience. Clearly we as people want to be listened to. Such is life.

  • Interesting take Geoff — would agree with you to a point. When we’re talking about repetitive experience or maybe expertise as most would refer to it, then yes, experience certainly can blind you.

    However, broad experience has great value as there are seldom new ideas in the world just folks who are able to connect existing dots in new ways to form new ideas. But then, maybe that is what you’d call wisdom?

    Good stuff.

    • Yeah, I think we’re sympatico on that, the ability to use experience successfully is wisdom. Lot of experienced fools out there, too ;) LOL!

  • Geoff again you continue to give me ways to respect your continuous growth into your own journey of wisdom.

    Being self-reflective has been my own path for many years and the older i get, the better i get at being an observer. That role allows for growth and freshness.

  • Pingback:See the World With Both Eyes Open | GREG VERDINO

    […] naturally, I enjoyed Geoff Livingston’s take on a similar topic when he wrote this week about “How Experience Blinds You.” The more experience we gain, the more likely we are to be bound by preconceived notions of the […]

  • Yes 100%. I find it hard to trust anyone’s advice unless it shows in their actions. If what you have to share is meaningful then most likely you are following your own advice to start with. Or you have learned from a dreadful mistake that others can benefit from.

    • Absolutely! The do as I say, not as I do meme is not so good. Nope, not at all. Thanks so much for your kind words today!

  • Experience is overrated. The true definition of experience is knowing you’ve made a mistake when you’ve done it a second time.
    Great point in your post to differentiate where wisdom comes in. It’s the ability to ask the right questions, yet knowing there never will be one answer.
    Let’s hope we can all stay green. I mean that in the nicest way. Because when you are green, you are growing. When you are ripe, you begin to rot.
    ‘The longest and hardest nine inches in marketing . . . is the distance between the brain and the heart of your employees and customers’

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