"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."- Shunryu Suzuki
Entrepreneurs have one thing in common: the ability to see things differently. The ability to envision a new future drives entrepreneurs to creatively solve problems and provides resilience in the face of setbacks, both excellent skills to have, especially in a shifting world of employment. Whether you're an entrepreneur, a leader in an established company, or an entrepreneurial employee, maintaining the ability to look at challenges with fresh eyes is invaluable for motivation.
When I first entered healthcare IT, it was easy to see things differently because it was a new industry for me.
To think like an entrepreneur, you need to be able to take off your "expert" hat and look at things like a beginner again. For me, entering healthcare technology, an area I didn't know anything about before starting Wellpepper, provided a clean slate to brainstorm new ideas. Because I didn't know what was possible, I didn't think that anything was impossible. The longer I work in this area, the harder it becomes to maintain a beginner's mindset, making it harder to continually adapt and be creative as a business. The good news is, it's possible to change this mindset.
Here are a few ideas for ways to get a beginner's mind if you're feeling stuck.
Go to a conference on a topic or industry you know nothing about. If you're a freelancer or looking for new business ideas this can be a great catalyst. If you're committed to your industry or job it can be a way to find ideas to apply to your current situation or to better understand others in your organization. During my first healthcare conferences, my synapses were firing at full speed- making so many new connections and seeing many opportunities.
Try a "Reverse What If" exercise. Take something that is true today, and imagine what strategies you would employ if the exact opposite were true. This can help you find vulnerabilities in your product strategy, or to dream bigger than you thought possible. We did this when I was in the Microsoft Office Product Group at Microsoft and we were asked to imagine that Microsoft Office was not used by billions of people worldwide. This is a challenging but highly effective way of turning your assumptions on their head.
Try the 5 Whys. This is a common exercise in lean or kaizen. Take something you are trying to understand, and ask Why about that situation 5 times. You may get to the root of a problem that you did not fully understand, which will lead to creative solutions.
Change jobs with someone. In "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" Ben Horowitz says that a CEO must do the job of each of his or her directs during some phase of the company, which is necessary in early days when you don't have the resources to fill all roles, and as the company grows when key roles become vacant. If you've never been a CFO, wearing that hat out of necessity for a while may give you a beginner's mind, and it will make you a better leader for that CFO when the role is filled.
Take a Trip. Possibly the most fun of the options, but changing your location, and especially going somewhere that has a different language or culture will make it easier. Although, the diversity within the US can provide plenty to help you examine your assumptions about how people work or live.
There are many ways to cultivate a beginner's mind so you can think differently, and these techniques can be applied equally to areas where you're stuck, or looking for creativity in both your personal and professional life. That doesn't mean that the expert's mindset is not helpful in business. There are many situations where you need to get things done and you need to know how to do them efficiently and well. That's where the expert's mindset excels. But if you're looking for new ideas, fixes for hard problems, or even to remain energized in your role or your business, try to look at things with a beginner's mind.
About the Author
Anne Weiler is CEO and co-founder of Wellpepper, a clinically-validated and award-winning platform for digital patient treatment plans. She cofounded Wellpepper in late 2012 with Mike Van Snellenberg to address issues in communication and continuity of care after a personal experience when her mother was released from 6 months in the hospital with no instructions and a month for a follow up visit. Anne's expertise spans concept to go-to-market for technology startups and established businesses. Prior to Wellpepper, Anne was Director of Product Management at Microsoft Corporation. She joined Microsoft in 2001 with the acquisition of Canadian web content management company Ncompass Labs.