Having a beginner’s mind.

Experience and expertise can be dangerous traps.

Expertise and experience can make learning hard. They can also make it hard to appreciate novelty, hard to understand something unique or original, hard to explore the unknown. Shunryu Suzuki was one of the first American Zen Masters and he spoke to his students about the importance of having a beginner’s mind. He said that it is hard to teach anything to an expert because they already know everything; it is like pouring water into a glass that is already full.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.
-Shunryu Suzuki

Sometimes when we are introduced to something new or different (person, thing, idea), we group it with some past experience to make sense of it. We try to give meaning to something new based on our understanding of something that happened in the past.

When Nirvana was finishing Nevermind, the record label was shooting for 50,000 sales. This was largely based on the fact that Sonic Youth (Goo), a similar style of music, had sold around 100,000 copies at that point. Nevermind has sold over 30 million copies. A lot of experience and expertise was way off base.

When Steve Jobs wanted to develop Apple stores, people thought he was out of his mind—including many of the folks on the Apple board. Their resistance was largely based on the fact that Gateway Computers was failing horribly with their suburban stores. On May 19, 2001, the first Apple store opened. And while Gateway stores had been averaging 250 visitors a week, by 2004 Apple stores were averaging 5,400 visitors per week. Again, a lot of experience and expertise was way off base.

I think that innovation often eludes big organizations because they are just too fat fingered to pick it up.

–Johnnie Moore

I think that good ideas, new ideas often elude us as individuals because we have a hard time letting go of what we do know to consider what we do not know. The more experience and expertise we have, the harder it is to be open to learning.

How do you do it?

Be good to each other.

  1. Debbie McFalone, Ph.D.

    This is so, so true…particularly in my field of education. We must cultivate innovation and challenge our past practices, which no longer serve our students well. School leaders must possess the courage to stand for the future, and embrace change—Our students are depending on us.

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