How experience trumps knowledge in better Finance & Accounting

How experience trumps knowledge in better Finance & Accounting

Imagine you’re on an operating table and you’ve the option of choosing between a medical student with the best technical knowledge money can buy from the best schools or an experienced doctor who’s maybe not as knowledgeable but instead has a good track record on this particular procedure, who would you choose?

Well hopefully it doesn’t come to that for us but as accountants & finance professionals we’ve been primed to enhance our knowledge, since to get certified and pass exams we pretty much have to attend accounting schools, classes & courses, read textbooks and even then and a lot of us once qualified will still go on more technical knowledge enhancing courses as we believe this is the best way to add value to the organisations we serve.

Knowledge vs. Experience

But just like the medical student who has learned to perform an operation in their medical school class has not learned it in the same way as a doctor who has already conducted several real-world operations, there are also those among us who continue to be like the medical student who excel at this book-type learning tending to keep referencing textbooks, calling up from memory, or attending more skills courses, and one of our strengths (and perhaps weaknesses) is the perception we follow checklists, like the joke why did the auditor cross the road, because that’s what it said to do in the checklist. Whereas some of us are more like the doctor and we have internalised our learning via application of the principles we’ve experienced with or through others which means our thoughts flow from our subconscious without thinking too hard about it, just in the same way as we walk down the street.

And although this book-type learning we’re accustomed to will give us some of what we need to get going in our careers and be certified as an accountant, without experience it’s not going to be worth much and people will not care what we have to say.

Two ways to seek out experience: Good vs. Bad

So there’s two ways we can leverage & seek out such experience, we can either choose to follow good examples of what to do successfully or avoid bad examples of what not to do. And this is where the mentors on our Strength in the Numbers show come in. They share both real world examples you can’t get in any textbooks of what to do well via their success stories and also of what not to do via their hard won lessons. And earlier in our careers this is a point we easily miss.


Because we’re so used to thinking about gaining knowledge via book & textbook learning as that’s what we’ve been primed to do, we’re asking ourselves: How can I solve this problem? What do I need to do to solve this problem? What model would help solve this problem?

Higher level questions

Instead of the much quicker way to go from knowledge to experience and to accelerate the success you enjoy from your career and making an impact for your businesses, by thinking about our challenges at a higher level by asking:

Who do I need to know who’s already experienced this problem to help me learn?

That’s where mentors either via your own network or our show, Strength in the Numbers, can help. That’s why you should also ask follow up questions and why I ask these of our guest mentors:

  • What did they value about the experience?
  • Why was it important to them?
  • How they overcame it?
  • What simple steps could someone else use to overcome it?
  • What did the final result look like?

Naturally, asking who? As well as these follow up questions is a much faster & less painful way of learning and gaining more valuable real world experience not found in textbooks, but also it’s practical, actionable and valuable because the faster we learn the faster we can build on our book learning, complement it, and start experiencing a more fun, rewarding and enjoyable career as well as improving the positive impact and difference we make for the businesses we serve.

If you enjoyed this blog be sure to share it with others. Also checkout our show website which has the most up to date information on the latest podcasts, videos, blogs, plus high quality links to show notes with resources to help you keep improving your experience and building on your strength in the numbers. We’re also on:

Also suggest topics or guests to us you feel might be relevant for us to get on to the show. We’d love to hear your ideas for the show, who to interview and share more experiences that benefit our community & profession. At the end of the day we’ll only keep our strength in the numbers if we look out for each.