| Sep 27, 2022

Knowing Nothing and Being Happy: How Beginner’s Mind Can Reinvent Your Business

Steve Jobs once asked why computers could not be carried around. It is an example of the child-like curiosity of ‘shoshin’ that reveals possibilities hidden by the conditioned mind.

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Master

What do biases, preconceptions, and projections have in common? Experience. With experience comes comfort and with comfort sometimes comes complacency. This happens in our businesses, our jobs, and our relationships. That’s not to say that having years of experience is bad. What it does say, however, is that our expertise makes us numb to the cues around us, keeping us flat-footed in the face of a rapidly changing world. And that can be bad, especially in the business world.

The demands of this era where technologies become obsolete with exponential frequency require a new mindset; one of constant learning and adapting, and one that is potent enough to bring a new dimension into the evolving architecture of the business landscape. It all starts with the mind of a beginner.

Not Knowing the Solution to the Know-All Mind

Think about how a three-year-old approaches her daily activities: Without any prejudices or an imagination tainted by preconceived notions. She starts her day with 1001 questions and excitement about new experiences. That is shoshin, beginner’s mind, a Zen Buddhism concept that refers to having an attitude of openness and acceptance free of preconceptions when approaching a subject as a beginner would.

The brain of most adults is hard-wired to inflexible thinking patterns formed through years of knowledge and experiences. Our social structure reinforces this by rewarding us for having the right answers and not asking good questions. So at a very young age, we stop being curious and stay within the boundaries of our expertise because nobody wants to be the cat that got killed. This snares us into thinking that we know it all when we actually don’t. 

But if we ever hope to find radical ideas that will transform our businesses and bring growth into our personal lives, we will need to get back to the mind of a beginner and regain that sense of curiosity and wonder.


Benefits of Beginner’s Mind

According to the Zen principles, acting like true beginners and placing value on knowing nothing opens us up to more possibilities and opportunities to learn. Out of the many benefits, it is useful for:

Gaining new insights

Whereas the expert mind cruises over familiar subjects on autopilot and approaches new subjects as skeptics, the beginner’s mind leads us to a broader perspective — from the unknown. When we train ourselves to question everything as a child would, we will see old, entrenched problems in a new light. This effectively reorients us to be able to ask fundamental questions that get to the heart of the issue, widening the net of our knowledge and yielding profound insights.

Unlocking the creative mind

While the mind of the expert is great for navigating known spaces, its restricted viewpoint stands in the way of creative solutions. To unlock this, we have to eliminate the certainty of the expert mind and approach challenges as though we are seeing everything for the first time. This excitement will give rise to unexpected, simple yet creative solutions.

Expanding your reach

A beginner’s mind is always ready to adapt to unexpected events and situations. Combined with a reactivated sense of curiosity, we become more receptive and flexible to changing circumstances. Using this learning strategy helps us to give up some of our old, dated ideas, accept new perspectives, and forge new frontiers in our respective fields.  

Tapping Into Your Potential by Starting Again

All evidence points to the fact that “business as usual” no longer exists. The changes we have experienced following the pandemic will continue to affect how we approach work and how we interact with the products and services we use. Business executives can adapt some of the principles of shoshin to navigate this new landscape: 

Set aside tradition: Forgetting everything you know might just be the starting point needed for new growth. Most companies often rely on knowledge gained from past successes. But what if their old customs, as good as they may have been, hold them back from becoming great? Traditional ways of approaching modern business challenges slow down enterprises. 

Be radical: Imagine walking into your establishment for the first time and seeing how it’s run through a child’s eyes. Take the time to understand the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ behind your operations. Then reassess the accepted business norms and techniques, keeping in mind changing trends and new information. You can also set aside a period in the year when heads of departments are shuffled. Routine practices in one field can be revolutionary when they migrate to another. 

Escape the traps of expertise: Experts are not as open to new ideas and perspectives as newbies are. The baggage of experience fights against innovation. By interrogating accepted wisdom, you can not only escape this cage but open up to radical ideas that will give your business new life. Try this: Let experts and novices combine their knowledge and viewpoints on a project and watch how innovative ideas flow out of the discussions. 

Challenge assumptions: As we go along in life, we unconsciously filter through anything that looks out of place and dismiss those things that appear to be of little relevance. Assumptions are the expert’s comfort zone. They blind us from seeing the myriad possibilities beyond the ones we already know. Beginners question everything. Steve Jobs, a shoshin practitioner, for example, asked why computers could not be carried around. Try having a trusted colleague or business partner play the devil’s advocate by asking questions that target the crux of the problem.

Unconventional Business Wisdom 

To stay relevant after the seismic shifts of the last few years, businesses will need to maintain a state of continued learning. Embracing a beginner’s mind will help them respond quickly to the ever changing needs of the customer. Remember to stay curious by asking, “How would a five-year-old approach this?” If we wish to uncover revolutionary ideas, let’s not be afraid to challenge conventional approaches even if it means traveling the least likely path. It just might be the change in direction your business needs.

Winifred hMensa

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Winifred is a Ghanaian freelance writer, a certified nonconformist, and chief evangelist for creative expression against all odds. view profile


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