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The Invisible Value of Experience

The Invisible Value of Experience

By Susan Williams

I finally had the chance to watch the movie Sully.

The movie chronicles the real life events about Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger needing to make an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson river after hitting a flock of birds.

Amazingly, all 155 passengers and crew survive and Sully becomes a national hero. However behind the scenes, Sully faced an investigation about his conduct that day which could have potentially destroyed his 42 year career and reputation.

Two things really struck me about this movie.

First, the humility of Captain Sullenberger.

Through the entire time, Sully kept reinforcing the idea that he was just doing his job and the positive outcome was a result of the team working together. The airline crew, the emergency responders, the people on board the plane.

In his mind, even though he may have taken the initial decision as to how to react to the situation, it was the combined group of people all working together at the same time that ultimately saved lives.

The second thing that really stood out for me was how his years of experience all came together at the right time and right place.

As the investigation finally confirmed, this flight with a less experienced pilot in all probability would have had a different ending. Lives would have been lost if Captain Sullenberger was not at the helm that day back in 2009.

His 42 years of experience all culminated together in seconds as he made decisions that ultimately sealed the fate of all the people on board.

But how do you put a value on this experience?

Experience is something that you can’t necessarily see. It’s just something that people naturally do.

Let me share another story of experience that I have read a few times over the years. It goes something like this…

A company let one of their technical staff go after many years of service. After he had left, one of their critical machines broke down. They tried to fix it but didn’t have any success. Finally, having run out of options, they called the technical person they had let go to come back to try and fix it. He came into the shop and within twenty minutes, the machine was fixed. The company was extremely grateful and asked him how much they owed him. He told them $20,000.00. They said – “but it only took you 20 minutes”. He then responded – “20 minutes plus 30 years of experience”.

That’s the thing with experience. You don’t know it’s needed until it’s needed. It’s almost an invisible skill.

You can’t document experience in a workplace manual for someone to read and then do. Experience is layers upon layers of situations (both positive and negative) all culminating together and creating knowledge.

This knowledge then becomes part of someone’s nature. Often people don’t even realize that they have this knowledge. It becomes second nature to them with no formal realization of the actions they are taking. They just do it.

What is concerning is that many companies are about to lose many of their experienced resources and may not even realize it.

In the US, there are about 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day and Canada is closing in on about 400,000 people retiring each year (up from 250,000 today).

How many Captain Sullenberger type’s are in these massive numbers that are retiring?

I think companies have to take a very good look at the individuals that are potentially going to walk out their doors and give some long, hard thought as to how they will retain or replace this experience.

They also need to recognize that experience is not necessarily always easily visible. It’s at the critical times you need it most that it often shows up.

And it’s also something that you can’t develop overnight.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.