Beginner's Mind

May 31, 2012
As the new kid on the block at Brilliant Ink, I thought my first blog post should be about just that: being new, and the valuable perspective that offers. “Beginner’s mind” is a concept from Zen Buddhism that encourages cultivating a sense of openness to new experiences and information – and not becoming too attached to your own opinions or expertise. Although I’m new to the company, I’m not new to the profession. I've been a writer, editor and communication consultant for almost two decades, advising companies on how to inform and inspire their employees to do outstanding work. I've built up a body of knowledge over many years, but I have to constantly remind myself that the best way to keep learning is to forget what I already know. Like many of you, I’ve worked in a large enterprise for years at a time, and confronted the steep learning curve that that entails. You invest a lot of time at a company to understand how it works, who makes decisions, and how to succeed. Then you gradually shed your newness, adapt to your environment, and get comfortable… which is a dangerous place to be. Why? Because once you figure out what will or won’t be supported by your company’s culture, you’re less likely to venture beyond the status quo with bold but untested ideas. In a recent Wall Street Journal article on “How to Be Creative,” Jonah Lehrer observed that many of the biggest creative breakthroughs come from non-experts. Engineers at 3M rotate divisions regularly to avoid becoming too entrenched in one area, engaging in a kind of organizational tourism meant to foster innovation and problem-solving. It’s not that knowledge is bad, but being an expert means you know the boundaries of what can be done, whereas a beginner is blissfully ignorant of limitations. “Your status as an outsider, and ability to ask naive questions, can be a tremendous advantage,” he says. But suppose you aren't able to change jobs easily or participate in a company-sponsored rotation. How can you cultivate the wide-open, unprejudiced perspective of beginner’s mind to expand your creativity and find fresh solutions to common challenges? Here are some ideas:
  • Listen more. Make room for other viewpoints by allowing others to speak first. Encourage quieter colleagues to speak up.
  • Trade places. Be a tourist in your own company by doing someone else’s job for a day. Put yourself in your employee’s or your customer’s shoes.
  • Hit reset. Choose an alternate location for your meeting. Invert the agenda. Try a different medium for your message. Anything that you tend to do on autopilot – change it.
  • Ask questions. When in doubt, think like a kid. The most powerful question in any situation is “Why?”
  • Talk to us. If you have a communication or employee engagement challenge, you might benefit from an outside perspective and the strategic and creative talents of Brilliant Ink. We’re here to help.
And if you do find yourself in a new job or situation anytime soon – savor it, and make the most of beginner’s mind. I know I will.

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