Naveen Jain has a serious entrepreneurial track record with Moon Express, the World Innovation Institute and his new medical-focused startup Viome. I recently spoke at Crowdsourcing Week and caught his talk with one of the most powerful statements this year:

Be the idiot in the room.

Jain says you don't want to be the smartest gal or guy in any new situation. I agree with him. Here's why.

Ask better questions

Jain, author of the new book Moonshots, was quick to explain that he didn't mean be stupid. What he meant was to be curious.

"When you don't know, you can ask dumb questions." Jain explained how he's hired the brightest minds to join his startups, from the medical field to the aerospace arena, and asks them "Why not?" to challenge the very assumptions they've made in their particular field. By being ignorant to their knowledge, he can help them go beyond the boundaries accepted by the experts in their field.

A beginner's mind

Buddhists call it having a beginner's mind. Here's Jack Kornfield's take:

Freedom from views is like a cleaning of the glass, a breath of fresh air. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki calls this open-mindedness "beginner's mind."... When we are free from views, we are willing to learn. 

This is much easier when we are young and inexperienced since everything is a new experience. As we get older, though, it becomes harder to not view the world within your past framework. Worse, the deeper you get into a particular discipline, the more likely you'll adopt the assumptions specific to it - making you less likely to innovate that very discipline.

How to be an idiot

There are some simple ways to create a beginner's mind:

  • Embrace cross-disciplines: Side hustles and educational experiences aren't just opportunities to bring in better future income, but also make it easier to see your main gig with fresh eyes
  • Seek understanding before being understood: Ego can prevent us from asking potentially silly questions. However, true power comes from asking and understanding rather than just acting like you know
  • Mix up your crowd: Being around the same people with the same mindset can quickly make you complacent. By traveling in other circles, you make sure your mind stays sharp - and open to new, genius ideas

Published on: Oct 29, 2018