The Value of Beginner’s Mind for Senior Executives


4 min read

Over the years, my work with business teams has brought me into the realm of highly seasoned and successful executives. It’s no surprise to me why these accomplished people are where they are. They’re smart, tightly focused and in control. These are all exceptional, even critical, qualities for leadership. However in order to stay ahead of the inevitable changes that come for any and all businesses, it’s also essential that from time to time even these high-functioning leaders reawaken their often long dormant beginner’s mind. This is precisely what I do for them when I teach leadership teams to write songs in an exploration of their most pressing challenges and goals. I’ve listed some of the powerful benefits of employing a beginner’s mindset below.

Beginner’s mind prevents perfectionism

While I’m sure it would be nice to be perfect, it’s an elusive goal. The danger in striving for “perfect” is that progress and productivity are sacrificed at the altar of perfectionism. What beginner’s mind offers is a chance to free ourselves from that pressure since we’re new to whatever challenge or idea we’re exploring. Being a beginner is the ideal way to approach innovation challenges given that there’s no need to find an immediate solution. Innovation is often about the willingness to accept and learn from a chaotic situation without feeling the need to fix it/make it perfect right away.

Beginner’s mind awakens curiosity

Once we’ve been in business long enough to become experts in our fields, there’s significant inertia preventing us from being open to new approaches and ideas. We’ve worked long and hard to find approaches that work for us and deliver the expected results. While this is true, it’s only effective if the world around us stops changing which, alas, it never will.  A beginner’s mind rekindles our innate curiosity in a way that can help us develop important new skills and approaches we might otherwise have avoided.

Beginner’s mind provides new solutions by avoiding familiar approaches

One of my favorite quotes (paraphrased) is Abraham Maslow’s “if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Senior leaders get to where they are by having very effective “hammers.” While, there is no doubt that there are many situations in which a hammer is the perfect tool, there are times when a hammer will cause more problems than it solves. We need to turn to a beginner’s mindset to see the issue in a new light. While this approach can be uncomfortable, leaving our expert comfort zones from time to time is not only a good idea but also an ideal way to add new tools to our problem-solving collection.

Conclusion

There is a belief that the status quo is safe. If we just keep doing the things we’re doing – which are working just fine thank you very much – then all will be well. Unfortunately, all our hard-won expertise can fall by the wayside when the world changes around us. Embracing a beginner’s mindset, in spite of all the time and effort we’ve spent becoming experts, is a strategic hedge against the inevitability of change where we’re all beginners even if it’s against our will. Better to build our beginner’s mind “muscles” on our own terms so that when we’re forced to use them, we’ll be ready.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

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