In this fast-paced and complex world, we are expected to have the answers to everything. Especially if we are leaders in a particular field. We are commended for being experts, praised for being knowledgeable and respected for being vastly experienced.
But what if not having the answer is the key to your next breakthrough – the business edge you have been seeking?
This may seem counter-intuitive at first: it’s good to shift from the “Expert’s Mind” and become a beginner again, at least sometimes. What are the benefits of cultivating the “Beginner’s Mind?” And how do we do that?
On July 13, my baby girl was born; 3 weeks earlier than expected. Suddenly, I became a new daddy, and what a joy it has been!
Infants have no way of communicating with us about what they need except by crying. I would instantly put myself into her world, to understand what she feels, sees, hears and experiences. It’s like seeing the world for the first time. It’s a whole new world, and it’s wonderful.
That reminded me of an eastern zen concept I believed in: Soshin. So, this post was partly inspired by my newborn baby.
The Beginner’s Mind vs The Expert’s Mind
“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki
As adults, we are more inclined to rely on our experiences and expertise when approaching problems. We tap into our “Expert’s Mind”, our rich database for solutions. After all, our “Expert’s Mind” is our reliable and trusted source for the answers we need, especially in familiar situations.
The “Beginner’s Mind” is the mind that is seeing the world anew, with new pairs of eyes, as though you didn’t know anything about it. It’s the mind that is open to new ideas and possibilities.
Consider how little children approach situations and problems – without judgments and pre-conceived notions. They have no expectation to manage.
Children’s imagination is not limited to their experience (because they have very few or none). Their mind is untainted by prejudices and biases. And most importantly, little children do not possess the size of an adult’s ego!
Be like little children. They’re simply open, totally curious and ready to absorb all learning experiences.
The Problem With The Expert’s Mind
Many times, we assume the answer to a problem is similar to the ones we had used before. We confine the boundary of possible solutions to what is already known, without considering fresh perspectives.
Our attitude tends to be, “I already know this” and we dismiss new ideas. We are less open to unknown possibilities.
Our brain is tempted to compare and map the territory to pre-existing information in our brain. And we unconsciously make assumptions in the process. We filter away information that is not agreeable to what is already known and what is working.
Therefore, the “Expert’s Mind” is useful for navigating what is known, and not very useful for navigating the unknown.
If you want to get unstuck, be more creative and uncover ideas for new breakthroughs, it’s good to shift into the “Beginner’s Mind”.
How To Nurture The Beginner’s Mind?
1. “Empty Your Cup”
You would have probably heard of the story of a zen master who poured tea into his visitor’s cup until it’s full and overflowing. His message was to convey that a full cup cannot receive any new tea unless it is emptied.
In the same way, a mind full of pre-conceived opinions are not conducive to receiving new ideas. Approach familiar situations with an empty mind. Let go of judgments, preconceptions and expectations.
Sometimes, I re-read my favorite books that have taught me much in the past. I would read slowly as though it’s my first time. And I’d be pleasantly surprised of the new insights that surface – gems that were previously hidden from me.
What happens if you approach familiar situations as though it’s your first time?
2. Cultivate Curiosity, Ask Questions
Be curious. Ask deeper questions. Be like a child. Examples:
Instead of thinking “I already know how this works”, ask “I wonder why it works like that?”
Instead of thinking “I already know how to do this”, ask “What new or better ways can I do this?”
Slow down. Challenge your assumptions. Investigate, be like a detective. Leave no stone unturned. Be like a five-year-old kid. Ask “Why….why….why…..”
What happens if you dare to challenge some of the well-established ideas, beliefs or approaches?
The Beginner’s Mind in Communications and Business
1. Let go of the need to add value to the conversation
Most people, especially experts and leaders, feel immediately obligated to provide their expert advice to the person in front of them.
How do you know if you’re like that? By catching yourself when saying things like, “You should……” or “This is the best way…..” or “From my X years of experience…….”
That’s a good intention. But sometimes, the better thing to do is to listen to understand first. Resist the temptation to contribute your expertise into the conversation, at least until you understand the person sufficiently.
Remember, unless your cup is empty, you cannot receive fresh tea. Even if it’s half-empty, you will be tasting a mixture of drinks – not what the pourer originally intended you to taste!
This may sound self-contradictory: you can truly add value to conversations by not having the intention to add value.
2. Let go of the need to be perceived as an expert
Let’s admit it. It’s a weighty burden to carry the expert’s title around everywhere you go. It’s a tall order. You can’t be your authentic self, if you need to appear as an expert all the time.
There is freedom in these three words: “I don’t know”. There’s no shame in admitting that. And it’s powerful because instead of relying on your own strength, you can tap into something greater than yourself.
You redirect the focus on yourself to others. It’s liberating because you don’t have to keep protecting your own ego.
Some of the wisest people I know are also the most humble. The more they know, the more they realize that they only know so little. And they do not feel insecure by admitting they don’t have the answers. Yet, I sense their deep grounding.
What would happen if you show up simply as a human being (not an expert) to connect?
What would happen if you let go of the need to look good (expert) to others?
3. Let go of the need to win the argument
In the same way, it’s a heavy responsibility to be right all the time. When there’s a need to win an argument, someone will inevitably has to lose.
Instead of coming from the place of an expert or teacher, you can come from the place of curiosity. Say, “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” Then shut up and listen. You may uncover interesting points and see things from new perspectives.
Ask good questions. Then listen some more.
When you let go the need to win an argument, everyone gains new lessons without feeling lousy.
What happens if you resist the urge to correct or teach others?
How can you make others see your point of view without an argument?
The Beginner’s Mind And Success
Some of the greatest innovators often adopt the “Beginner’s Mind” and are open to possibilities and ideas that are yet to be considered by the industry “experts”.
They are relentlessly curious and ask good questions. In the process, they challenge conventional approaches and uncover revolutionary ideas.
Many great organizations recruit new people. Because they have no prior experience, the new members are more likely to question how things work and uncover new perspectives and ways of getting things done. They can identify problem areas that are previously hidden or unaware of.
In the same way, at any time, we can shift our minds into the “Beginner’s Mind” and let go of the need to be an expert. Ask this, “Am I serving the person in front of me or my own ego?” If by being an expert helps to serve him better, by all means, use your expertise. You always have a choice!
I am enjoying my first months of fatherhood. My baby is my new coach and I’m going to learn heaps in this journey! It’s a whole new world in a familiar, old world.
I wish that you gain fresh learning experiences in whatever journey you’re in. Remember to see through the eyes of a child and experience new wonders.