‘Rookie Smarts’ is a compelling read

Mar 10, 2015


Linda Schreiber

Linda Schreiber is a native Iowan. She earned a B.B.A in Business Administration majoring in human resource management and marketing and a M.A. in Communication and Journalism from the University of Iowa. Now retired, Linda worked as a journalist and administrator. She is the author of “Before 52340: A Place in Time,” which describes 100 years of settlement in Clear Creek Township and Tiffin, Iowa, from the mid-1800s to the 1950s. Today, Linda spends time writing, gardening and volunteering to assist nonprofit organizations.

“Rookie Smarts” by Liz Wiseman is a how-to manual describing and outlining steps to achieve success in the fast-paced 21st century environment. It is a book about living and working perpetually on a learning curve.

Ms. Wiseman bases this approach on her own rookie experience, research and thousands of interviews. She suggests a rookie’s inexperience pushes these newcomers to reach beyond their capabilities and open up to learning from everyone and everything.

Rookies compensate for their lack of knowledge with innovation, questioning, networking and experimentation. Rookies seek and respond to feedback and coaching, making quick adjustments to continue and complete the project. Veterans on the other hand are often seduced with hubris leading them to miss important signals.

The author, who has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and one of the top 10 leaderships thinkers in the world, reports today’s data is simply overwhelming. The volume of new data means the shelf life of information has dramatically declined:

  • Total information in the world doubles approximately every 18 months
  • Biological data doubles every nine months
  • Medical knowledge doubles every 2 to 3 years
  • More YouTube video is uploaded every two months than the three major TV networks have created in the past 60 years

As knowledge becomes obsolete (one researcher estimates a rate of 15 percent per year; another study reports high tech decays at a rate of 30 percent a year), the requirement to learn exponentially grows. In order to process this level of data with a much faster spin cycle, information must be converted into knowledge and insight faster.

Ms. Wiseman says when there is too much to know, the only strategy is to know where and how to find information when you need it. Proving my high school English teacher, Mrs. Cloud, was right. “You don’t need to memorize every detail, you just need to know how to look for and retrieve information.”

Rookie Smarts is replete with personal, entrepreneurial and business stories of success and setbacks to provide a framework of learning for readers of any experience level; and examples of corporations including Intel, BTS Global Consulting, Nike / Converse, Spanx and NBA greats such as Magic Johnson to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and legendary presidential reporter Helen Thomas.

She describes Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery as a fundamental rookie experience – rookies are pioneers exploring new territory who quickly adjust to their discoveries, while veterans prefer to stay where it’s comfortable. Chapter summaries give definition and description to terminology and process sprinkled generously throughout the book.

Rookies have a natural curiosity, humility and a playfulness that is the polar opposite of overconfidence that comes with experience. Everyone can develop rookie smarts to increase mental capacity and learning with the following framework:

  • Ask questions
  • Start (stay) fresh and unburdened by the past
  • Release resources

In fast times, Ms. Wiseman says, “Everyone is winging it . . . But amazing things can happened when we admit that we don’t know.” Her critique of veteran workers as “more of the same” sometimes misses the mark if seasoned veterans are accustomed to crisis management or constantly seek new challenges to better their skills or company’s position and ranking – especially in a 21st century, rapidly-changing environment and technology advances.

Ms. Wiseman deserves credit for an extensive appendix, including indexing, notes and discussion tips. Her approach to openness is a welcome banner to not only youthful inexperience, but also diverse populations, ethnicities and backgrounds. Twenty-first century workers must constantly reach out, connect and expand networks and constantly (re)train to achieve adaptable skill sets and grow networks that facilitate advancing knowledge.

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