The recent HBR cover (and the lead article) focused on 'How to spot talent' with a tip 'Experience is overrated'. There was a follow on article in the ET exploring this aspect a bit further.
The key message, as you rightly guessed, is that "Choose on Potential and not just on Experience".
The definition and indicators of Potential can be measured in a number of ways. It will vary by organization, leadership roles, geographies, function etc. Very often, many organizations that we have worked with, have a very fluffy feeling about Potential. The managers who hire or recommend an individual very often have a gut feeling that an individual has a high or, for that matter, medium potential but would not really be able to pin point on Why? Sometimes they work out and they become case studies. The process does not become repeatable.
How do you then measure Potential?
How do you know that an individual has high Motivation or Curiosity or, for that matter, high level of Engagement (possible key indicators of Potential)? Of course, we cannot ask - "Do you have high Curiosity" (as HBR article has rightly pointed out). On the other hand managers often get into intellectual and hypothetical problem solving mode to find out key indicators of the individual.
In contrast, we believe that the answer really lies in the past (the experience). To really judge whether a person has these characteristics (and hence the potential) we suggest that the managers delve into real life examples of situations and problems that the individual has been in. How did he or she address the situation or had solved them.
One real-life situation will never satisfy all indicators of potential. Hence, we also suggest that the managers will have to go into multiple real-life examples. In fact, multiple real life examples are necessary as they will also test the consistency of these indicators.
We have all been taught that "We" is better than "I" (Team player!). While assessing potential, please really dig deep into what has been the person's individual contribution in the situation. Please do not take team contributions as individual's capability. We have come across multiple situations where individual leaders have tried to hide behind the "team".
In summary, Experience is really important after all, and is in fact a great indicator of Potential, if questioned and understood well.
Important tip: At the cost of repeating, do not throw hypothetical problems at the potential hires as the answers will also be hypothetical and can never be tested and verified.