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Beginner's mind

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind, there are few”

Shunryu Suzuki


This quote represents what I have faced on the different projects and programs I was involved in during the previous months.


Beginner’s mind is not a matter of age, because in one of the groups I was recently participating in, the minds of the people were fresh, curious, full of openness to explore, and accepting that despite all the expertise and experiences, there was more than enough room to learn new things.


It was a program where creativity and feedback flew naturally, and people embraced the trial-error attitude to advance in their learnings, and improve their objectives.


And we were all people with a lot of experience, people with several years in the corporate sector nowadays reinventing or redefining their solutions as independent consultants.


What can we do to keep the beginner’s mind?


Another brilliant example happened a few months ago when I was doing a working session with a friend and client, one of the best and most successful chefs in my hometown.


During the discussions we were loudly having, she gave me a fantastic lesson about how she managed to successfully reinvent her business during the covid-related lockdowns. She opted to explore options that seemed to be risky, unorthodox, and against all the advice of her colleagues (all of them experts with expert minds).


She took bold steps in an unknown direction with a fresh mind, believing that there were more opportunities than depending on her survival on the government's help during the pandemic.


Nowadays, she is still innovating, exploring new lines, and moving to unexplored fields, because she has found a source of enormous energy and creativity in having a beginner’s mind.


On the contrary, in another case the situation was different. The years inside an organization played a role in blocking people’s minds to experiment with something new and keep learning. I came to this realization after finishing an evaluation of an innovation program that I was implementing with a team of a major (worldwide) company.


I must say that among the dozens of members of that team, professionalism, dedication, and hard work were always present. Yet, for many of the initiatives we proposed to follow, we faced resistance, and low motivation to experiment, to try something different.


I thought that the generational diversity of that team would be the key aspect to creating psychological safety for everyone to be open to exploring new fields, learning from each other, to move out of their comfort zone.


My assumption was not accurate at all!


Some of the people acted with the expert’s mind, which killed the whole dynamism of the program, interfering with the overall results, and demotivating the leadership to propose similar activities for the future.


On the other hand, the results of seeing the people with a beginner’s mentality in the same group, were amazingly refreshing: their openness, their curiosity, their courage to surrender to the unknown, to risk traveling out of the box. They enjoyed the process and enriched it constantly with their attitude.


Another great learning of the last months is when I witnessed the beginner’s mind in people who due to political situations, or for their security, had to leave their place of residency leaving behind everything, to start from zero in a new country/region.


Those are real cases that touched me deeply, empathically putting myself in their place and humbly learning from them.


I ask, why do we need something severe and external (an epidemic, a war, a tragedy, a bankruptcy) to motivate us to abandon the expert’s mind?


That’s what I’m reflecting on today, wondering when and how we, as human beings, decide to narrow our minds, and the spectrum of our vision and actions? What makes us think that what we have in our minds is already enough? Why do we limit ourselves to keep flying, exploring, and discovering?


What can we do to keep the beginner’s mind?


I don’t succeed all the time; my ego probably plays a role despite that I permanently challenge myself to avoid the expert’s mental attitude.


One of the actions I’m taking to shut down my expert mentality is to be a non-conformist, challenging myself every time I tend to close the window of possibilities after I have found a few of them that satisfy me.


But sometimes is not enough. I need to keep alert, awake, and humble to receive the generous rewards that living with a beginner’s mind brings to my life.


And you, how are you trying to keep your mind open, to have a beginner’s mind??

Beginner's mind