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That's how you recognise a rookie!

Blog by Ingrid van Tienen, Deputy Director ORMIT Group


By Ingrid van Tienen

Deputy Director ORMIT Group

Don't you need at least 10,000 hours of relevant work experience to achieve the level of mastery? This has been alleged for years and is certainly true for complex skills required to be a doctor, an athlete or a musician. For many other skills, however, only 20 hours of experience will make you fairly proficient.

Therefore experience isn’t always the best predictor for success. Sometimes experience actually results in blind spots for new opportunities: if you already intuitively feel what to do, it can be difficult to be open to new information and to involve others. Our brain stops working once a habit is formed.

still Stefano - Louis and Stefano talk ORMIT.png

Do you recognise Louis, rookie smart at SMart?

"Rookie smarts": a mindset

Precisely because of their lack of experience, rookies are quite good at mobilising and binding the knowledge and skills of others. This appears to have much more impact on our performance than the amount of experience we have. Leadership guru Liz Wiseman calls this way of thinking and working "rookie smarts".

"Rookie smarts" is a choice, a mindset. It doesn’t 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. How do you recognize a "rookie smarts" mindset?

From backpacker to settler

A "rookie smarts" mindset can be recognised through 4 different behaviours:

  1. Backpacker: travels around the world without much luggage and nothing to lose. This provides for space and freedom to discover new fields and new opportunities.
  2. Hunter-gatherer: keeps an eye on the surroundings and seeks advice from others.
  3. Master of fire: takes small and calculated steps, moves quickly and asks continuously for feedback to stay on the right path.
  4. Pioneer: moves on unfamiliar and uncomfortable terrain, improvises and works tirelessly.

The counterparts of this behaviour are the:

  1. Keeper: relies on a proven approach and earlier success and thus maintains the status quo.
  2. Local guide: knows his or her environment. Is not looking for new information, remains close to what is known and gives advice instead of asking for it.
  3. Marathon runner: feels capable and runs the race at a steady pace. Relies on the automatic pilot or takes big, careless steps without consulting with other critical stakeholders.
  4. Settler: remains in his or her comfort zone, follows the processes and relies on methods that have already proven good.

It is not obvious

It is not about classifying people into boxes. These are behaviour patterns that we all recognise in ourselves. Often, we display "rookie-behaviour" in one situation while we display "routineer-behaviour" in another one, depending on the context, our assumptions and our mindset.  It requires a conscious effort to be rookie smarts; since our natural tendency is to stay in our comfort zone.

How do you make sure that you are sitting in the driver's seat?  First, through determining for yourself if you're still in your learning area or if you have unconsciously become rooted in your comfort zone. If you know that at certain points you are in your comfort zone, then look for situations where you cannot rely on your experience and track record, and thus be forced to think again and act like a beginner. Learning something new every day and working to the top of your abilities will lead to enthusiasm and more work satisfaction. Once you have started, you cannot stop and you will remain forever a rookie.