I’m fascinated by Kyrie Irving. More specifically, I’m fascinated that NBA executives continue to mortgage their team’s future believing they will be the one to get Kyrie to understand the concept of a team, like Mark Cuban just did in acquiring Irving for his Dallas Mavericks.
Kyrie is insanely talented and has proven, in spurts, capable of playing a key role on a championship team. But, he has also found a way to become disgruntled with every team he’s played for, and done his best to completely torch franchises on his way out. At his introductory press conference in Dallas, he comically lamented that his “selfless leadership” wasn’t appreciated in Brooklyn (his previous team, where he was such a good teammate that he skipped more than half of his team’s games because of his refusal to get a Covid vaccination).
It seems that Kyrie, who is in his 12th NBA season and his 8th as an All-Star, has had the same year or two of experience over and over again. There never seems to be any reflection, growth or self-awareness; in Kyrie’s mind, his talent alone means that he should warrant the respect of a top-tier superstar.
Philosopher John Dewey famously said, “we do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” I think a lot of leaders struggle with this. Once you brand yourself an expert in a field, get a title, and then feel the need to justify your perch (often by stifling your teams trying to make things 1% better), the idea of maintaining curiosity can become an afterthought.
In choosing leaders, I see companies grossly overvalue experience as defined by number of years doing something. By this metric, Kyrie Irving has significantly more experience than Ja Morant, another All-Star point guard in his fourth season with the Memphis Grizzlies. But while Kyrie seems to be running in place, no matter how far ahead in the starting blocks his immense talent put him, Ja has consistently grown his game each year, proven capable of uplifting every teammate he has had, and seems to be well on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career.
Changing the way we assess experience is especially critical with our current pace of technological change. I’m part of a distinct tweener generation of people who grew up having no Internet and then transitioned to having the Internet dominate our lives at a still-formative age (here’s a great read about this Oregon Trail Generation). I’m half-digital native, but only half. Unless I am humble enough to be a continuous learner and constantly clear my mental cache of what used to be true, I’ll always be missing the other half. I’ve also made a point to find myself a series of mentors under 30 years old.
Over the past few years, I’ve made a habit of asking senior leaders how they continue to develop, which I use as an heuristic to get a sense of their humility. More than half the time, the response I get has made it perfectly clear that they don’t take continuous learning or reflection seriously, with a few going so far as to admit that they never read. This isn’t just disappointing, but downright negligent, and I can’t imagine this kind of leader being effective for too much longer.
They are Kyrie Irving, clutching onto whatever talent they may have, too prideful for deep self-reflection, blindly repeating the same year of experience over and over again. In the very near future, I believe the notion of years of experience will be superseded by diversity of experience, curiosity, intellectual humility and trajectory of growth. Those are the ingredients necessary to make our experiences meaningful and turn information into actual knowledge.