“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
– Shunryu Suzuki
It’s not usual to find a Zen Buddhism concept making its way into water cooler conversations and board meets alike. But in today’s world of volatility, this idea fits right in. Shoshin, or the beginner’s mind, means to have an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even if you’re already an expert in the field.
Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki introduced it to the world at large in the 1970s in the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, where he also explains the mindset like this: “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything.”
In the professional world we inhabit today, these are wise words indeed. CEOs, entrepreneurs, productivity gurus, and business thinkers have not only embraced it, but also shared their tips on applying it in various workplace contexts. Let’s dive in to see what those contexts are and how such a mindset can help.
Beginner’s mind to train people
Getting others in your team or organization to learn something new can be a frustrating exercise, but part of the reason your students might not be learning is because they can’t relate to the expert that you are.
Authors Chip and Dan Heath explain this situation in their bestselling book Made to Stick: “Once we know something…it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”
Instead, if you approach the task of teaching or training from a beginner’s mind, you’d be thinking and interacting as a beginner, and it gives you an insight into your student’s mind. You can connect better with them and find more teachable moments that stick.
Beginner’s mind to solve problems
Instead of solving problems like an expert, author Jen Sincero suggests solving the problem like a beginner. This means you will not dread failure and you allow yourself to be fueled by curiosity and compassion. That’s when new and creative solutions open up.
For instance, if there was a new coveted project you and your team wanted to take up, but you, the team leader, are not an expert with the up-and-coming software needed on the project, what would you do? A beginner’s mind approach to this problem might be to give your junior team member, who is an expert in that software, a chance to lead the project, while you and the rest of the team, work under his direction. In the process, you get your team an opportunity to work on an in-demand project, you and your team learn a new skill, and you help your teammate step up as a leader.
Beginner’s mind to continuously learn
Author, journalist and lifelong learner Tom Vanderbilt sees the beginner’s mind as an opportunity to stop putting pressure on ourselves with goals and start learning for the sake of learning. Constantly learning new things can help you improve your neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to revive itself in response to new challenges — and increase your creativity, both valuable qualities in the fast-evolving industries we work in today.
These were just a few ideas from some of the top thinkers on the beginner’s mind. Does it inspire you to begin your experiments with the concept?