Monday, April 27, 2009

Beginner's Mind

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few.”
-- Shunryu Suzuki

This quote better than any other I know points out a necessary ingredient to innovation, as well as an essential quality of great leadership. A true leader and innovator has a "beginner's mind."

Yet, I'll be the first to admit that from many years of experience in my chosen profession, my mind tends toward "been there, done that" when an employee suggests an idea I've tested in the past that "we tried and it didn't work." I always hated hearing it, so why would I say it?

What is ironic about this mindset is I've seen two people try the exact same idea; for one of them it worked, for the other it did not. The successful one found a way to execute the idea effectively, perhaps with a subtle change in approach, a different angle or simply more persistence. Or maybe the times or conditions had changed such that this time the ideal environment existed for the idea to work. Had the "expert" advice of "we tried that and it didn't work" been followed, an innovation would have died.

Knowledge and experience contribute to competence and wisdom, but they can also be a trap. They can inflate our ego leading to a closed "expert's mind."

Maintaining a beginner's mind takes great strength. It requires us to set aside our hard-earned expertise and face each business challenge, idea or opportunity as though we had never seen it before. . . even if we have, many times.