Experience, Addressable Experience

What is addressable experience? Big Red Car?

Big Red Car here on another glorious Thursday in the ATX in which the sun shines, the breeze blows, and life flourishes. On Earth as it is in Texas, y’all.

So, I’m visiting with a gray haired eminence former CEO who is an old pal. We get on the issue of experience.

How much is enough?

How much is too much?

How much is relevant?

How much is addressable?

It was an interesting conversation. Between the two of us, we have more than seventy years of CEO-ing. That is a lot of time, a lot of experience.

Experience, Big Red Car, how much is enough?

We agreed that it takes at least a decade to get the handle on this CEO-ing thing.

It also is sufficient to begin to feel the issues related to changing markets and growth.

It is enough time to work through the list of horribles.

Doing the Tough Things as a CEO

Experience, Big Red Car, how much is too much?

This question is bounded by the notion that at some point, there is not much more to learn. Ouch! That sounds a little dopey because we’re always learning.

We both agreed that the job of a first rate CEO is to delegate himself out of a job. This takes about twenty-five years to really master. It also takes the kind of resolute action which makes a CEO willing to hire subordinates so good they can, one day, do the CEO’s job.

After twenty-five years, a CEO is in the flow and the flow is carrying the operation in the desired direction. If you get good enough at Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values, Culture — you get more than good enough and it no longer feels like trying to push an elephant through a transom one handed, while standing on a broken stool.

If your CEOing is the product of being a serial entrepreneur, then you become competent – boring – at starting companies, but you may feel like you are retracing your firs, unsteady toddler steps. This is, of course, why serial entrepreneurs get their subsequent foundlings out of the cradle so rapidly. Been there. Done that.

Experience, Big Red Car, how much is relevant?

This nudged the conversation in an unexpected direction. We both agreed that experience is no longer measured in long periods of years — with some exceptions — but rather in six month increments.

What this means is that if you think you possess five years of experience, in fact, you have six months of experience ten times. With the passage of time, the older experience peels off as if it had a sell-by date.

This way of looking at experience sets us up for the last question.

Experience, Big Red Car, how much is addressable?

Relevant and addressable overlap. We use the term “addressable” in that sense.

If you are 40 years distant from your first day as a novitiate CEO, what from that time period is addressable? Well, nothing.

First, you were not really very good at it. Oh, don’t make that face. You sucked. Admit it.

Second, that is no longer the way the game is played. The business world has changed, the market has changed, the labor market has changed, you have changed. Somebody invented the Internet (no, it wasn’t Al Gore) and email.

We came to the conclusion that the last fifteen years (six months x 30, haha) are addressable.

But, there are some things which never lose their relevance and addressability. Let’s explore them.

 1. Creating a plan for a company is better understood, but used to be more rigorous. The advent of tools, techniques, and the ability to revise on the fly make planning much easier.

Planning continues to be an area in which the startup world is hugely deficient. This is primarily a matter of inexperience.

 2. Operations – from the perspective of assigning objectives in the continuum of Strategy, Tactics, Objectives – continues to be a matter of: “You don’t what you expect; you get what you inspect.”

Nothing about this has changed, but, again, there are better tools.

 3. People still require a clear understanding of the plan before they are willing to come aboard, but they also require constant communication, assessment of their personal contribution, and fair compensation. These are immutable principles whether learned in 1980 or 2018.

 4. Perhaps, one of the greatest issues which is worthy of mention is the lack of useful performance appraisal programs which tie objectives (again from the Strategy, Tactics, Objectives continuum) to individual performance and compensation. This is one of those things which pretends to get started in earnest and a year later is sitting on a digital shelf somewhere growing digital moss.

 5. What is not the same is the general characteristics of the labor gene pool. That IS an area in which thirty years of experience provides one with only ten years (six months, twenty times) of addressable experience as it relates to the gene pool. The gene pool has changed, not the principles of how management deals with labor.

 6. The ability to solve problems is one of the strongest bits of experience which can be conveyed by a long term CEO. First, she knows what the “list of horribles” is – see the link above. Second, she knows what does and does not work.

 7. Another bit of experience which is highly relevant is the ability to frame and make decisions. If you have a system, you cut out at least half the time necessary to make good decisions while dramatically improving the quality of your individual decisions.

Decisionmaking for the CEO

 8. Last, we have the all-encompassing notion of “critical thinking.” Critical thinking falls into the general category of life experience, not just business experience.

Critical Thinking

So, dear reader, there you have it. But, what the Hell do I really know about it anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. If you don’t have sufficient experience, go rent it. Go borrow it. Be good to yourself.