Learning & Development

Are You Training Your Talent to Act Like Rookies?

In today’s Advisor, guest columnist, Liz Wiseman, reveals how using “rookie smarts”—no matter how long you’ve been in your profession—can be a valuable asset to any organization.

When is not knowing more valuable than knowing? Why are you often at your best when you are doing something for the first time? In a rapidly changing world, experience can be a curse. Careers stall, innovation stops, and strategies grow stale.
In her new book, ROOKIE SMARTS: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, author and leadership expert Liz Wiseman shows how being new, naïve, and even clueless can be an asset.
Studying 400 workplace scenarios, Wiseman and her team compared how rookies tackle work assignments to how veterans tackle their assignments. Their research showed that the rookie mindset is characterized by four distinct modes. Each mode is a component of how people tend to think and act when they are in a rookie assignment—doing something for the first time.
1. Backpacker: Because rookies are not weighed down, they are more open to new possibilities, explore new terrain, and don’t get stuck in yesterday’s best practices.
2. Hunter-Gatherer: Rookies will seek out experts and return with ideas and resources to address the challenges they face.
3. Firewalker: Lacking situational confidence, a rookie will take small calculated steps, moving fast and seeking feedback to stay on-track.
4. Pioneer: Keeping things simple and focusing on meeting core needs, rookies improvise and work tirelessly while pushing boundaries.

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For today’s knowledge workers, constant learning is more valuable than mastery. Rookies are unencumbered, with no baggage to weigh them down, no resources to burden them, and no track record to artificially limit their thinking or aspirations.
“We tend to assume that newbies are bumbling, clueless clods, more likely to get in the way and slow things down,” writes Wiseman. “But, I found that rookies actually operate with higher levels of self-awareness and move faster than their experienced counterparts. And, while they have weaker networks, they are driven to seek out expertise in others and, as a result, can bring more expertise to bear on a problem than experienced staffers.”
In the book, Wiseman explains how people can maintain their rookie smarts, operating as perpetual rookies, who despite their experience can retain the rookie mindset. As she writes, “The rookie smart modes, while being the natural approach for newcomers, aren’t intended to be a permanent condition. These are states of mind we should be able to conjure up and toggle to when we need it.”
Experienced professionals can provoke a rookie approach by putting themselves in situations that disorient and disqualify them. Organizations can adopt talent management practices that rotate talent, keep it fresh, and maintain a state of constructive challenge. Professionals can make attitudinal shifts and, with practice, cultivate the mindsets of rookies.
In our fast paced, fleeting, and wired world, ROOKIE SMARTS is an indispensable guide for professionals and leaders alike, teaching that it is on the learning curve where we feel most alive and find our greatest fulfillment and joy.

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Liz Wiseman is a researcher, executive advisor, and speaker who teaches leaders around the world. A former executive at Oracle Corporation, she worked as the vice president of Oracle University and for 17 years as the global leader for human resource development. She is the author of the bestselling books Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools. Wiseman has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and named as one of the top 10 leadership thinkers in the world. She has appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and has written for Harvard Business Review.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll look at four reasons training employees to create a personal brand can benefit your company.