The Age of Disruption: Why Practical Experience Matters Most

Professionals discuss project, referencing whiteboard and laptops.

“What an elder can see sitting, a youth could not see standing.”
—Ancient African Proverb

Throughout my career that spans close to two decades now, the asset management industry has seen many solutions that were touted as the next big thing come and then quietly go—some lasting longer than others. Tom Secaur’s blog, Don’t Believe the Hype, discussed the rise and fall of a few of these great disruptive technologies which initially sent the industry into a frenzy before quickly leaving the collective consciousness once tested on the ground. However, while in fashion, it was a critical expectation for any serious consultant engaged on an advisory or implementation project to be able to fluently discuss these subjects. The stronger your theoretical rhetoric was on such topics, the more sought after you were on different engagements. The practical aspect of whether the talk could be translated into a tangible and measurable benefit was often a second thought.

Over the last few years, however, clients' attitudes have shifted quite a bit. Their demands and expectations are now more tailored to obtaining a specific ROI from the investment made for new technology and/or the people brought in to help implement. With the industry experiencing increased budget pressures, it’s no longer enough to extol the merits of a revolutionary or transformative solution to obtain adequate client buy-in to proceed with an implementation. It’s no longer sufficient for a consultant to just be fluent on a wide variety of subjects to bring value to the client. Rather, recurring themes I often hear lately are, “Have you done this before?“, “Has this been tested?”, “What are my peers doing in the industry?”, “What are the best practices you have seen?”, or “What are your own experiences working with this solution and how long have you worked with such technology?”. The bottom line is that experience matters more than ever.

From a personal perspective, I believe that practical experience provides the following key tangible and undeniable benefits:

1. Shorter project timelines

While each project has its own uniqueness there are similarities across the board. A key advantage of having a seasoned resource working on a solution is the ability to leverage experience and best practices acquired from earlier engagements. They are able to foresee common mistakes that may not be so evident to someone who is facing a challenge for the first time. Past failures become tomorrow’s successes, with the likely result of being able to shorten timelines without negatively impacting the quality of the delivery.

2. Lower Cost

Today, with so many budget pressures impacting decision makers, choosing where to invest scarce dollars often comes down to the biggest bang for the buck. Experienced resources not only provide the opportunity for shorter timelines but also contribute valuable insight toward helping a client choose the right solution to meet their specific needs. Practical experience also helps accurately assess the client’s capabilities for introducing and integrating a change in technology. On the other hand, a less experienced resource is more likely to require additional time to come to similar conclusions, and thus becomes more expensive.

3. Innovation

Experience provides the ability to evaluate what doesn’t work versus what simply needs improvement. It also helps one to build on successes and failures of the past to achieve better results in the future. The Ancient Polynesians conquered the Pacific Islands by empirically learning from past mistakes, innovating by making simple design changes to their rather primitive boats, and learning to read the positioning of the stars. These learnings were passed down from earlier generations who had the benefit, or rather challenge, of experiencing a few doomed exploration attempts before improving the process for future sea travel. The same applies to the asset management industry—to be successful you need a resource with battle scars from earlier engagements on your team.

Consider the key lesson from the proverb at the beginning of this blog—nothing compares to many years of experience gained through practical interactions with people, events and environments. The “elder’s” past knowledge provides him with a perspective to appreciate, anticipate, plan and react to events in a way that the “youth” cannot. The asset management industry will continue to be set abuzz with innovative and disruptive technologies. But the reality remains that seasoned resources who have experienced the fast pace of an advisory engagement or the daily grind of an implementation will be able to provide the steady hand, unique perspective, and insight required to successfully deliver effective, tested solutions on time and on budget.