Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

The “beginner’s mind” – blue sky
May 10, 2009, 8:00 am
Filed under: - Personal Reflections, - Professional Development

A Google search suggests that the most common reference to the “beginner’s mind” originates from the title of Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki’s book: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  It is said to reflect a saying of his regarding the way to approach Zen practice: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”.

This is one of those seductive, philosophical sayings that roll off the tongue elegantly and sound oh so clever.  But is it?  Wikipedia elaborates with “It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.”

What I like is the justification that in learning one can be naive, even wrong and it’s okay.  In fact, if one is self aware and open to correction, it is intentional – desirable even.  What a forgiving environment in which to learn.  Doesn’t it reduce, if not eliminate, the counter productive pressure to project expertise?  It is a very humble, and liberating, recognition that however much one knows today, whomever one is, one cannot know all. 

In taking the stance of the “beginner’s mind” (“even when studying at an advanced level”!)  we can all be open to learning and collaborating ― teachers can teach students and students can teach teachers.  It fosters mutual respect for the value of different perspectives.

For anyone who loves to learn, this is like freedom, wide open blue sky. 

If this resonates with you, you might also appreciate “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment” (1).  It is an old (1991) but a short classic that speaks of the process for becoming a master, of anything. 

Against Malcolm Gladwell’s articulation of research that “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness” (2)  ― i.e. that to master anything one must exert 10,000 hours of concentrated, structured, intentional learning against it ― we can all benefit from a measured pace.  “Mastery” provides a guide for undertaking the journey of mastery.

(okay, 2nd confession: I read, a lot)

(1) “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment”, George Leonard, Penguin Books, USA Inc, NY, USA.

(2) “Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, NY, USA, 2008, p 41.

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

[…] The “beginner’s mind” – blue sky (learning and mastery) […]

Pingback by Is leadership, and leading change, like leading a symphony? « Change Whisperer – Gail Severini's Blog ©

What wonderful thoughts and references! thank you Gail.

It takes a deep unwavering sense of inner confidence to live with and sustain a beginners mind.

To me a beginner’s mind feels like a one that is curious, inquiring, playful, uninhibited, humble, fresh, spongy (soaks in what’s needed and squeezes out what’s not) and unconcerned about sounding naive, asking those critical ‘dumb’ questions that lurk in the ‘experts’ minds who are too proud to voice them.

This reminds of a time when during one our strat plan meetings, the group (industry experts and veteran) was trying to figure out why for years we were unsuccessful in selling a particular product – all sales promotions fell flat. We attributed it to the product features, market roller coaster, pricing etc….
I decided to ask a ‘dumb’ question to our sales guys – exactly WHO buys this product and describe them to me. There was instant silence in the room (I like to call it mediation!). No one could answer this. No one had thought about or visualized just how this product exchanges hands – whose hands! To move forward we had to trash the agenda and track back to fundamentals with a beginners mind.

Question – how can we develop a beginner’s mind?
Answer (one of many) – ask ‘dumb’ questions without inhibition.

look forward to more…

Comment by Anu

Anu, I always enjoy our conversations and your deep insights. I hope you will consider writing a blog because I want more ! I am a big fan of asking ‘dumb’ questions (as much of the writing here probably evidences 🙂 ) ! Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts and experience here.

Comment by Gail Severini ©

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s