How to adopt a beginner's mindset

February 18, 2021
The technique Beginner's Mind is one of the most popular in our problem-solving workshops. Participants forget everything they know about a subject or project and view it as if completely fresh.

In the book Made to Stick, authors Chip & Dan Heath introduce the concept of the Curse of Knowledge:

"Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has 'cursed' us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind."

And it's not just about sharing with others - sometimes we get so tied up in our expertise and experience that we find it difficult to see things objectively. We can't see the wood for the trees.

So how to fix this? The technique Beginner's Mind is one of the most popular in our problem-solving workshops. The technique invites participants to try to forget everything they know (or think they know!) about a subject or project and view it as if completely fresh – with no expertise, experience or opinions.

As the image above suggests (inspired by the Neuralyzer concept from the film Men in Black) it's kind of a control-alt-delete action for your brain - to temporarily remove all the encumbrances and restrictions that may be hampering or biasing your viewpoint.

For teams we often invite them to imagine their company or department didn't exist: would they invent it today? What would they do, given the range of experience and expertise in the room, to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the marketplace? Almost always people come up with something different to their current situation.

The freedom that teams feel, detached from the immediate to-do list and restrictions of structure, finances or existing clients, enables them to think of initiatives that are more dynamic, more ambitious and more in tune with what the market actually needs. The challenge is to then take the results of the exercise and try to implement some of the ideas (our technique Easy High Impact often helps here).

Beginner's mind is actually a concept from Zen Buddhism called Shoshin: "having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would."

As Shunryu Suzuki says in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind:

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

There's significant value of approaching problems as a novice, even if you already know a lot about them. It makes you more willing to experiment, to ask 'why' and question the status quo.

It's an extremely simple technique to use - give it a try!

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