Think Like a Beginner

Imagine taking up a new hobby such as playing the guitar or learning tennis.

You’d begin this process lacking any previous knowledge, so you’d be completely open to learn. With no preconceived notions, you are bound by no tradition and thus fully able to embrace the possibilities.

In contrast, getting an “expert” to take a fresh approach is about as difficult as getting someone to change his or her position on politics or religion.

Achieving success in a profession or craft yields many benefits, but also is accompanied by the downside of believing you’ve figured it all out.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you may rationalize. “Don’t rock the apple cart” is a torrid phrase that has seduced many smart people into a false sense of security.

The truth is, mastery is a temporary state that happens in the context of many external factors. So high achievement, therefore, is a not a permanent condition but rather a moment in time onto which success can either be built or depleted.

In Eastern philosophy, Zen masters strive to have an “empty cup.” An empty cup has plenty of room to accept a fresh pour of tea, but a cup that is already full has no room left for anything new.

On the path toward self-mastery, monks meditate and work toward the state of having a completely empty and open mind so they have plenty of room to accept new ideas. This empty cup philosophy is known as a “beginner’s mind” — fully open to embrace the new.

In your career, you may have hit a limit, which ironically was created by your own success. Once you get good at something, human nature is to keep doing it the same way.

The problem is, like the teacup, when you think you’ve got it all figured you, you leave no room for fresh approaches. This fullness leads to complacency, which in turn often yields to crushing defeat at the hands of innovative competitors who possess the beginner’s mind.

To break free from the shackles of the past and to take your game to the next level, approach your challenges with the newness of a beginner. Let go of what you’ve done in the past, and choose your strategy based on merit rather than tradition.

Upon his death, the founder of the Judo, Jigoro Kano, insisted that he be buried in his white belt instead of his advanced and highly-decorated black belt. In the ultimate act of humility, the most advanced master in the field wanted to spend eternity with a beginner’s mind, open to learning rather than being defined by his previous accomplishments.

Embrace the beginner’s mind in your career, company and community, and you will discover new paths to better outcomes. Judo-flip your approach from the expert to the beginner, and new possibilities will appear.