Experience or Skill, Which is More Important?
Recently, I ran a course with a buddy of mine who spent time in the British Special Forces. Like most instructors, he opened with some brief comments about his background. Now when I say, “brief” I mean his bio lasted about......uh....2 seconds. He closed by saying, “In the end, it doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past. I’m only as good as the last job.”
That's an interesting statement. In essence, what he said was that experience and skills are not the same thing. They are very different and it’s critical that you grasp the distinction.
What is experience? Experience happens when you come into contact with certain facts or events. Whether you survive a lethal encounter or learn how to use a new tool, after you experience something, you gain fresh insight and awareness into the matter.
Experience is critical because it gives you a reference point to make decisions should a similar situation arise. This speeds up the decision making process because your brain has stored information from which to draw from.
By contrast, skill is simply the ability to do something. Mastery of a skill is, or course, is built through sound, repetitive exercise.
If experience helps you make a decisions. Skill is the quality in which you execute those decisions. Experience is forever, but skills are perishable. So, which one wins out?
Experience and skill are not the same thing.
Say you’re having a discussion with your friends about health and fitness and one of your buddies said, “I don't exercise anymore because I played football in high school.”
What's the problem? Well, your friend is confusing his prior experience in sports with his present conditioning and abilities. Not the same thing, is it?
Yet, I hear statements like that all the time.
“ I don’t need to take a Combat Rifle Course, my Guard unit deployed to Iraq and I got all the experience I need on the M4.” Sure, military experience is a plus, but what's that got to do with your skills now (not to mention the context of the training and deployment)?
Frankly, I don’t think any of my experiences I had over a decade ago on active duty are relevant to my security needs today. Yes, the experience is valuable. Its gives me a framework to approach weapons and tactics, but that’s about it. Training and tactics change over time, so whatever Jason Bourne-type knowledge you may have acquired in your past, it may not be current.
Here’s another one: “ I shot IDPA for 12 years. I don’t need to do a pistol course.”
Yes, competition shooting helps develop speed and accuracy – both vital factors. But it’s not the only thing that determines the outcome of an engagement. What about tactical decision making? Moving with a loved one under fire? Reacting to ambush, and other scenarios that take place in a dynamic environment? Does a shot timer really prepare you for that?
Skills are acquired through experience, but experience will not maintain them. Only drilling and practicing can do that. Experience is valuable because it stays with you forever, but as time changes, the insights and skills acquired may not be as relevant to your current conditions. So what’s the answer?
You continue exposing yourself to new environments, new situations, and new training opportunities. Through those experiences you hone those skills acquire through practice, drilling and exercise. It never ends.
Why? Because you’re only as good as your last job.