Let’s imagine it’s your first day at a new job. Sure, you’re pretty experienced in your field and the industry, but you’re new to the company itself. You’re learning new systems and internal processes. You collaborate with new team members and sit in meetings with new executives, each with their own lessons learned by unique experiences. Through your new perspective, you are not bogged down by failures and mistakes.  You’re naturally curious. You ask questions. You’re learning. This leads to creativity and innovation. 

It’s easy when you’re new at something to be reminded that you’re a beginner. Maybe it’s a bit scary, or uncomfortable at first but we’re more open to trying, experimenting, and failing as beginners. It’s expected. 

This mindset is quite useful as an ongoing practice, even as we become experts. It allows us to elevate our creativity and enhances our ability to learn. A beginner’s mindset allows us to be more open to possibilities and is not limited by expertise.   

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”  

Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Popularized by Shunryu Suzuki, the concept of shoshin, meaning “beginner’s mind”, comes from Zen Buddhism and refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, just as a beginner would.

How do we cultivate a beginner’s mind?

Stay open.

No matter your experience or how advanced your knowledge becomes. We may think we’ve mastered everything there is to be learned, but the world is changing around us. When we are open to possibilities, we make room for that possibility. No idea is too small to be open.    

Let go of perceived notions and limiting beliefs. 

Eliminate the ideas of “right and wrong”. Explore all options and ideas. If we’re not focused on being the expert, on being right, on one way to achieve, then we can expand and explore new possibilities. In this space, we find innovation and creativity. 

Be curious and become familiar with the unfamiliar. 

Meet new people. While you’re waiting for your coffee at a coffee shop, ask the barista something about their technique, find out more from the person who is reading a book with a title you know nothing about, learn the name of whoever is in line behind you. Embrace saying “I don’t know anything about _____” and be curious to learn more.  

Be a beginner or pretend you’re a student learning for the first time or try a new activity. 

If make-believe is a challenge, put it into practice. Sign up for a workshop to learn a new skill, listen to a language learning app during your commute to work, watch youtube videos on how to _____ (insert whatever might be interesting to you). 

Be present and don’t think about past experiences. 

Instead, focus on what you see in the moment. To be present in the moment, you’re more likely to engage all of your senses. Bring your attention to the present by observing the details. Being present begins to strip away anxiety and stress, as we turn our attention to the here and now.    

To put it in practice, you can build your beginner’s mind by starting a conversation with someone who has a different viewpoint, altering a routine or your commute, trying something new, or question learned habits. 

As a business leader, embracing a fresh perspective without preconceived notions creates space for innovation and new ideas. We must innovate to grow. Consider companies like Acorns, the investment app making it easy to save money by rounding up daily purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically putting the difference into investment accounts. In an antiquated system like investing, digital innovation and simplicity spoke to millions of millennials, and Acorns has nearly doubled its assets within the past year. 

Salesforce, a CRM management company has relied on customer feedback, experimentation, intuition, and the beginner’s mindset to develop products that keep them ranking in Forbes list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies year over year. “When designing products, we try to rethink any pre-established ideas, notions, and behaviors. This can be tricky. Especially when you’re redesigning an existing, beloved product that millions use. But if you don’t, you will get stuck doing iterative improvements and that’s not what anyone wants.”

So step into the shoes of your three-year-old-self. You’re seeing the world for the first time, making sense of it all. Creativity, curiosity, and wonder overflow your mind. Take that perspective into your next brainstorm meeting, sales pitch, or family dinner and see where it leads you.