Ambiguities of Experience – Book Review

The Ambiguities of Experience (Messenger Lectures) While on vacation last month, I saw a review in US Airways‘ magazine for The Ambiguities of Experience by James G. March (affiliate link).

The review was a short one but peaked my interest as it points out March’s main question presented in the book.  The question is a simple one…but has a very difficult answer.

This simple question is:

What is, or should be, the role of experience in creating intelligence, particularly in organizations?

Simple question right?

Now…I’ve always been of the mindset that experience is a good thing.  I’ve argued before that I’d normally hire someone with experience over education.  This book makes me rethink that approach in some ways. I’ll still hire for ability over experience any day though.

The book is a short one – only 120 pages of content in a 5″ by 8″ book.  While short, there’s quite a bit of ‘stuff’ in it.

As mentioned above, the main focus of this book is to question whether experience really is the best teacher.    In this book, March argues that experience can be a good teacher if that experience is used as a means to build context for stories and models of history.

The problems with ‘experience as teacher’ is that these experiences can be easily warped, misconstrued and interpreted in many ways.

March does agree that experience can be a good teacher, but isn’t always the best teacher.  Using experiences alone as a learning mechanism can lead a person / organization down the wrong path.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was that there were no answers put forth by the author.  March realizes that the issue of experience as teacher is a difficult one and there is no ‘right’ answer on how to approach using experiences as learning method.

One caveat  before you run over to Amazon or your local bookseller, know that this book is a bit difficult to read.  It is written much like an academic paper and, as such, as a lot of academic language in it.    Not a bad thing…but it isn’t necessarily a book that you’ll breeze though.  You’ll have to work at reading this book.

That said, I like this book and have added it to my bookshelf to bring down and read again in the future.

Comments

  1. seems like a book i'd like to get my hands on. thanks for the review.

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