During World War II, the legendary physicist Freeman Dyson served as a scientist with the Royal Air Force Bomber Command.
He used statistical methods to analyse and improve airborne operations.
“I was engaged in a statistical study to find out whether there was any correlation between the experience of a crew and their chance of being shot down. The belief of the Command, incessantly drummed into the crews during their training and impressed on the public by the official propaganda machine, was that a crew’s chance of surviving a mission increased with experience.
Once you get through the first five or ten missions, the crews were told, you will know the ropes and you will learn to spot the German night fighters sooner and you will stand a much better chance of coming home alive.
To believe this was undoubtedly good for the boys’ morale. Squadron commanders, all of them survivors of many missions, sincerely believed that they owed their survival to their personal qualities of skill and determination rather than to pure chance.
They were probably right. It had been true in the early years of the war that experienced crews survived better.”
Dyson notes that a study conducted before his arrival had confirmed the official doctrine of the importance of experience, and that its conclusions had been “warmly accepted” by everyone involved.
When he took another look at the problem, however, the results weren’t as encouraging:
“Unfortunately, when I repeated the study with better statistics and more recent data, I found that things had changed… My conclusion was unambiguous: the decrease in loss rate with experience which existed in 1942 had ceased to exist in 1944.
There were still many individual cases of experienced crews by heroic efforts bringing home bombers so badly damaged that a novice crew in the same situation would almost certainly have been lost.
Such cases did not alter the fact that the total effect of all the skill and dedication of the experienced flight crews was statistically undetectable. Experienced and inexperienced crews were mown down as impartially as the boys who walked into the German machine gun nests at the battle of the Somme in 1916.”
So what happened?
Simple: new technology
The Germans had invented a raft of new technology such as upward firing guns that meant the experience the crews had was far less valuable.
This same phenomena is happening right now.
Professionals are out there touting their experience but the market knows everything is changing at a rapid pace.
While experience is still valuable, if it’s not matched with an agility and acceptance of change then it can easily give you a false sense of security.
An experienced AND progressive professional will thrive.
An experienced and dogmatic one…wont.