I am very grateful to the never less than courteous Christopher Demers for his blogpost, “Lately”, which popped up in my timeline and for the line of thought it provoked. I hope he’ll forgive me for quoting, condensing and otherwise misunderstanding the thrust of his argument. As ever, my initial thinking quickly ran beyond the confines of 140 characters over on Twitter so I’ve hopped over here to get a little more expansive.
Christopher’s general contention is that, when it comes to recruitment, anything you’ve done over four quarters ago is irrelevant and that some might “not give a damn about your legacy”. He also punctures a few guru-inflated blimps and challenges the talking heads of the lecture circuit to show why their thinking has any currency. Like I said in my Twitter response, I agree and disagree in equal measure. I disagree that our past achievements have no value when we’re under consideration for a new post. I agree that there are far too many people out there talking with authority to a credulous audience about things that do not clearly demonstrate relevance in the current climate.
However, we would do well here to consider this quote from George Santayana:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Famously paraphrased as “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, it is still apposite in the context of the argument Christopher advances. What the aspiring candidate or keynote speaker simply must do is to clearly set out why their previous experience is relevant to the opportunity at hand, to demonstrate the lessons they have learned from those experiences (successful or otherwise) and how they will be applied to accelerate beyond the narrow confines of a job description and bring value. The weight of responsibility here lies not only with the candidate or prospective speaker. Recruiting with a mind closed to the potential value in the person in front of you on a subjective reading of past experience might lead you merely to confirm your own hypotheses.
You can spend all day on Twitter, blogs and other, more arcane outposts of the internet in an attempt to only ever read things that you agree with. You can cosset yourself with a cabal of the likeminded and take a warm bath in your own prejudices whilst titillating yourself with the loofah of conviction. Or you can use a differing of opinions to examine your position a little more closely. Even more excitingly, you may find that your original opinions were incorrect and you can adjust your trajectory accordingly. If you are of a generous disposition you might even choose to acknowledge this to the person with whom you initially thought you disagreed. The wilder frontiers of social media notwithstanding, civil disagreement seems to me like one of the very things that our interconnectedness now makes more possible than ever before. Of course, fear still holds us back. Its bad enough being demonstrably wrong in a meeting with your peers, another thing entirely being wrong in public, where your every utterance has the potential to be shared with millions of others.
Christopher might be right, and I might be wrong. It’s more likely we’re both right and wrong. It is often about context. What I do know is that by opening yourself up to disagreement with true respect and humility, remaining open to the possibility that you may be wrong is a far more invigorating position from which to view the world.