Difference between Experience & Exposure

Experience is the accumulation of knowledge or skill that results from direct participation in events or activities. The key point here is direct participation. What is direct participation? I go to my desk, follow a set of instructions on my role, and repeat the same process for 10 years. Does this make me experienced by 10 years? What am i gaining experience in - blindly following a set of instructions or actually understanding where i fit in the big picture? Direct participation should be more like a discussion or a conversation. The goal of the conversation/discussion is not only to achieve the desired result within a predefined time frame but also analyzing the process so it can be done either in a lesser time or in a better way. Direct participation means that all parties have a right to voice their opinions.

A common scenario in official environments is - two team members, one senior & other mid-level, arguing over an issue that can be resolved purely by data & a little patience. The argument goes like this, “I am doing this for 14 years are you challenging my experience”. The other individual replies, “With all due respect i am also working in this domain for last 8 years, but i haven’t seen this work even once”. This is a catch 22, because both parties are trying to resolve the issue by providing subjective evidence based on what they perceive as their “experience”. This is the main flaw of colloquial interpretation of the word.  Time spent in accumulating knowledge or skill is necessary but not a sufficient criterion for judging expertise. This is because learning curve differs for each individual & depends on participant’s inclination and motivation to acquire the skill. The correct term to describe this learning process should be “exposure”.

Exposure is the act of subjecting yourself to an influencing experience. Exposure implies opening oneself to the learning experience by charting a path with passionate curiosity, accepting failures, correcting course & learning something more about youself in the process. This means that exposure is closely related to exploration. I believe that when we call experience in corporate lingo actually implies exposure.

Another way to look at this is to focus on the result of both experience & exposure. If i am experienced i am expected to have a high efficiency. Having a high efficiency though is not an indicator of a better performance. I might be efficient in doing the wrong things well! It might be time to rethink the basic approach & create a new process.

However, when my experience is due to exposure i am more effective. When i am more effective, i chose to do the right thing & do it well. When i am effective i am more open, more relaxed & i am looking at problems from a higher vantage point as i have tread these territories before. I might not know all the routes or all the details, but my exposure gives me the courage to take the road less traveled.

So the next time you are going on a road trip & a concerned friend asks you - how many years of experience do you have doing similar trips? You can reply that even though my total experience in long distance driving is 2 years, my exposure is quite high. I have been up till Leh, alone.

If your reply confuses them, direct them here :-)


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