Absolute Beginner

Absolute Beginner

We can sometimes be weighed down by the "curse of knowledge", believing we know everything about a role or problem. Instead, tap into the beginner's mindset by imagining today is your first day in your current role. How would the new you approach things differently?

In Detail

Adopting a beginner’s mindset means forgetting everything we know (or think we know) about a subject or project and viewing it as if we were completely fresh – with no expertise, experience or opinions. It improves our ability to question established practices and reveal new, unexpected insights.

If those neuralyzer things from Men In Black existed, this whole approach would be a doddle. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) they don’t, so you can rely on us to help you forget all your assumptions and begin again.

The Curse of Knowledge

Sometimes we assume that our way of viewing things is the only way. We become valued, recognised and rewarded for our knowledge and experience. This all adds to our influence and reputation, and makes us feel important and confident.

But although knowledge is undoubtedly useful, it can sometimes limit our ability or willingness to learn and grow. If you’re highly rewarded and recognised for your expertise, this means you don’t have the incentive to look outside your area.

The more you specialise, the narrower your view becomes. This inevitably affects the creativity of your work.

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us.”

– Chip & Dan Heath in Made to Stick

Empty your mind

Try and imagine your first day at work – did you feel excited about the challenges ahead? Did you feel daunted by the knowledge gaps that you would need to fill? Did you spot opportunities others had become blind to?

Imagine you have no experience or expertise relevant to the brief, as if you were a child on the first day of school.

If this is proving difficult, write down your existing areas of expertise on a piece of paper and then put those notes away. This can help you to mentally “put aside” your knowledge temporarily.

You can think of it as “unlearning” – it can be useful to remake yourself as a blank slate without any biases, prejudices or ingrained ways of working that you might have developed over the years.

Beginner questions

You could imagine it’s your first day in your current role: How would you approach things differently than your present self? Or, imagine your company didn’t exist. What would you and your colleagues create to take advantage of your skills, experience and the opportunities in the market?

You can ask lots of questions like this to get people to explore the brief using a beginner’s mind.

Wrap it up

Collect all the ideas you’ve generated and review them with your experienced head back on. Are there any ideas outside your usual way of thinking? What can you do with them?

Actual Beginners

Sometimes it can be hard to forget everything we know, so a good solution is to enlist some people outside the team or department to see how they respond to the problem. Give them as little background as possible to make sure they truly approach the brief as beginners.

You could ask a friend or relative with no connection to or understanding of your work. A good best is to ask someone from another generation – they will almost certainly have had a different starting point to you.

Another approach is to ask people at random – on the street, on Twitter or anywhere you can find a diverse selection of people with no connection to you or experience of your project or brief.

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