Impact or Experience
When I was young, experience was more important than impact. Experience, and of course the age factor, was currency; the competitive edge. History played a big role in shaping peoples’ personas and perceptions of others, because life moves much slower and history stayed relatively static, whilst access to information [data] on people was also limited. Age was linked to experience and, ipso facto, was inextricably linked to impact.
Today, everything is changing. Experience does not immediately equate to impact. Impact can be had and also owned by young people. Sure, experience can help them in ensuring that they don’t repeat the same mistake twice, but they are also not hindered by their previous experiences. History isn’t a barrier for them; they aren’t restrained by their own histories; indeed, due to their ability to access so many others’ histories, they can learn from others’ mistakes [and successes]. Through multiple data points, and multi-generational data points at that, younger people are able to have an impact, without the same years of experience as the generations before them.
I’ve been thinking about impact or experience for some time now, and went on to Twitter for instant results to find the answer to “Which is more important in today’s world, and why?. It seemed to have been a provocative question, with 5,796 votes in total. The results were close.
Impact — 53.2%
Experience — 46.8%
In a country such as Nigeria, where we still regard age + experience as defining factors and skills, the closeness of the result was fascinating to me. Drilling down into the data [below] I was also fascinated to learn that this high number of “impact” voters were likely also male too — revealing further how times are changing in our traditionally patriarchal society. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of voters were aged between 20–29; yes, in some ways representing the general Twitter demographic which is predominantly youth oriented, but also perhaps this age demographic is also more likely to be influenced by some of the global tech entrepreneurs who actively demonstrated [and created almost immeasurable wealth] that impact was possible without experience. Zuckerberg. Bezos. Gates. Musk [although also worth noting that they are white males]. They were all able to cultivate and impact the world via technology, at a young age [although Gates would now most likely be considered the “old guard”], with relatively little experience. They are the epitome of impact over experience.
That being said, whilst they may have had that initial spark of creativity and innovation, coupled with a an insane sense of drive and steeliness that marks them out from other entrepreneurs, they all also reached an inflection point in their businesses whereby they needed to bring on board experience, in order to scale their empires and wrap structure, regulation, good governance and process around them — much of which is [often] steeped in age-acquired experience. Their skill, however, was to ensure so-called experience didn’t dampen the potential impact that comes from youth-driven vision and prophetic product building.
But back to Nigeria; let’s apply the impact versus experience model to our political landscape. Our population is 70% under 30. Our main political candidates are mostly two generations behind the populus. And their policies are centred predominantly on their experience and not their impact. Our political classes will talk about perfunctory roles such as being a two or three-time Governor, but they don’t discuss culture change or value or impact they delivered within their organisations. Leading people and embedding [a good] culture is more powerful than simply holding a title. Yes, they made it to a Governor role… but I would hastily follow up with questions such as: What did you do when you were a Governor? What impact did you have? Did you affect positive change?
On 1st October, Nigeria celebrates 62 years of Independence. We are not old, but we are also not young. Yet we have a lot of problems to solve and as a nation, we are at the stage whereby we need impact, not just experience. We are quite beyond the requirements of traditional, experienced leaders alone. We need, we deserve, impact and fast — not in one or two generations, in half a generation or less. Nigeria is a fragmented and complex society; change won’t happen with under 35s and below only, because there are so many cultural hurdles to navigate, much of which hangs on an “Elder” system.
We need a blend of experience and impact to help drive change[s] for our country if we are to fulfil our potential. We can’t and we shouldn’t dispense with Elders and many traditional ways of building community; but we can certainly afford to bring in innovation and energy from younger generations, that more fairly represent Nigeria of today. 22 year olds cannot be bound by laws and social constructs of yesterday. They don’t trust the systems that have brought Nigeria into what it is today; and without trust in the system, there leads to a social, political and cultural vacuum, which I don’t believe faithfully represents Nigerians; we aren’t built to be apathetic. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we can develop an impact + experience model that will revolutionise how we approach politics, society building, our economy and more.
Moving away from politics and back to what I know best — which is business building — at Sparkle we are firm believers in impact over experience. That’s not to say we don’t appreciate experience. We do; when it comes to navigating banking and regulation and infrastructure — experience is useful, although not essential, simply because banking as an industry is changing relatively quickly. That being said, what someone like me brings is experience in creating an enabling environment for people to make an impact, through values and culture. Within Sparkle, my role goes far beyond systems and processes around banking; it’s my years of experience in building an enabling environment where culture eats strategy for breakfast and we are creating impact internally and externally. So far, the numbers speak for themselves. 100,000+ people bank with us, powered by approx 30 people. Those 30 people, the majority of whom are under the age of 30, are creating tremendous impact. And it’s scalable. And that, to be, is why impact beats experience every time.