In Search of Experience
June 27, 2023
Experience: “Knowledge and skill gained while doing something” (MacMillan).
Experience is a fun topic. In politics, those who have a lot of it worry they are too old, and those who don’t have enough argue it is not important. Kissinger is 100 years old, is his experience valuable? You decide.
In the business world, experience is precious. We are all in search of experience. Our success depends on it.
Because we live in an increasingly complex, interconnected society, sustainable success requires an ability to tap into multiple sources of talent and integrate different strands of experience into our vision and business strategy. We need a synergy of multiple disciplines, we need multiple sets of different kinds of expertise. We cannot do without.
Let me put it this way: If you sell gizmos, you must first have an intimate understanding of gizmos and of your gizmo’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition) – as well as a good understanding of the market. This knowledge of the gizmo category is a prerequisite for success. But if you want to carve for yourself an enduring and large share of the market, if you want to execute an ambitious vision, you will also need deep knowledge of a range of other, very different, disciplines, such as:
- Funding: Access to competitive and reliable sources of money to fund your inventory.
- Sourcing: Securing the best sources of supply for the gizmo, meaning getting the lowest first cost while securing the quality and delivery reliability you need.
- Logistics: The most cost-effective and efficient way to transport and store your product.
- Marketing: The ever-changing world that influences the selling of gizmos requires special expertise. Marketing, the key driver of sales, is both more effective and more complicated than it ever was.
- Legal: The bigger you grow, the bigger a target you become. You will need sophisticated legal advice to defend your rights, protect your IP, structure good contracts with large buyers, etc.
- Technical: Coders and software specialists to develop apps or online platforms that will support your growth and design systems to protect you from cyberattacks; not to mention interactive AI that may preserve or accelerate your growth.
- Financial: The bigger you are, the more sophisticated financial know-how you will need.
- Environment: You will need to stay ahead of the curve on ESG factors.
- Geo-political awareness: Whether you are intent on penetrating the huge and multicultural European market, the challenging but even bigger China market, or other potential markets, you are limited only by your ability to acquire knowledge. The same applies to the supply side.
No one person can have a sufficient level of expertise in each of the above. The bigger you become, the more you will need to tap into the experience of outsiders. And you will look for accumulated knowledge and skills of above-average quality. In other words, you will seek not just relevant but also excellent experience.
Aristotle reflected on this and he stated that “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” And, I should add, a habit, developed over time, amounts to what we call “experience.”
Malcolm Gladwell builds on this concept in his book “Outliers” where he asserted that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing in the correct way for at least 10,000 hours. He illustrated this by pointing to the rise of The Beatles and Bill Gates, among others. In other words, he linked expertise with experience. Specifically, assuming one works on average 40 hours per week and 50 weeks per year in a specific discipline, one would gain 2,000 hours of experience per year. It would then take 5 steady years to accumulate 10,000 hours. This number is not scientific but it provides a useful rule of thumb: when looking for talent, find someone who has at least 5 years of the right kind of experience.
CPG has been helping companies manage their China supply chain for 45 years, and we are proud of the fact that many of our employees have passed the 10,000 hours mark and that some have decades of experience in our specialty. We are also humbled by the knowledge that there is always so much more to learn.
What we love about our business is the complementary aspect of it: all of our clients possess valuable experiences of their own. The more experienced they are at sourcing from China, the more we can add to their business. We value the opportunity of combining their knowledge with ours to deliver an unbeatable edge to their business – and to their vision. That interaction is very rewarding.
In the end, we are all, in our own way, in search of experience.