How a beginner’s mindset can help in the post-pandemic era

Following on from last week’s blog we’re ‘staying zen’, calling on another element of Buddhist teaching that relates to leadership, the beginner’s mindset.

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

Shunryu Suzuki

In a world where we often favour the perceived safety of expertise and experience above curiosity and imagination the challenge in cultivating a beginner’s mindset is obvious. But in a world where traditional rules no longer apply, forgetting everything we know might just be the starting point we need to take on the ‘big reset’.

New eyes

When a new member joins a team we’re working with, one of the first things we ask the group, and them, is how they’re going to capitalise on this fresh pair of eyes. It’s a short window of opportunity,  about 3-4 months before ‘new eyes’ become ‘not so new eyes’ – at which point you tend to begin questioning less, accepting more and curiosity is surpassed by routine. But in that initial period there is the seed of a beginner’s mind at work – one that doesn’t assume or take things for granted and, if given license, can challenge what they see and hear. Thankfully most of the teams we work with don’t have a revolving door of people entering and exiting, so the onus is on everyone to take on the role of ‘new starter/fresh eyes’. Imagine how enlightening and liberating it could be, and what changes it could provoke.

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Wish for what you want

Another useful trick when it comes to thinking like a beginner is to start with a ‘wished for end state’ – without self-imposed limitations. Starting at the end can open up ‘imagination paths’ that are likely to remain closed off if we front-load on too much detail and too many constraints. It’s all too easy to mistake innovation for reinvention if you don’t spend time visualising the big picture first. And by big picture we mean a ‘never-before-seen audacious’ version.

Drop the ego

A beginner’s mindset isn’t about how to do better or even do different, it’s about an eagerness to explore, without preconceptions. It’s not easy – it’s a discipline and it takes practice so start small. Write down observations and any potentially disruptive (in the positive sense) concepts and ideas as they pop into your head. Notice and be aware of your expectations when going into meetings or starting conversations and then try to ‘deactivate’ them. If your response to a question is ‘no’, reflect on what options might open up if the answer you gave was ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ or ‘I don’t know’. Jamie Freed, Global Vice-President, Private Client at Farfetch refers to this as;

‘being OK with colouring outside the lines once in a while’

being less intent on shooting for perfection and more open to the experience of not having all the answers, seeing where it takes you and what opportunities present themselves as a result.

Setting leaders free

Our reliance on what we know, what we’ve learned from the past can serve us well. But it can also inhibit and restrict thinking and, in some circumstances, even feed bias. Given recent events and the seismic shifts we’ve experienced in how we do business and how we lead, we have to question just how relevant the past is in helping us shape the future anyway. In our continuing quest at Maier to ‘set leaders free’ we’ve been asking leaders and teams what they want to keep and what they want leave behind as we enter a post-pandemic era. Maybe what we should be asking instead is ‘What’s possible if we look at this as a beginner would?’