Nick Johnston2 March 2018

Dare to think like a kid so your problems disappear

If you have ever learnt to ski, surf or swim as an adult you will know the frustration of watching kids effortlessly shred the slopes, hang ten or dive in the pool. If you’re anything like me, you might be thinking to yourself: “Surely I can do better than those darn kids?!”.

But unfortunately, this is where kids have the advantage. Without all of that life experience that adults have, kids approach learning new skills without any preconceptions of what is right and wrong. This means that kids get themselves hurt more often as they make mistakes. But it also means that they learn faster because they learn from these mistakes.

This concept is known as ‘beginner’s mind’ in Zen Buddhism. Shunryu Suzuki, a famous Zen teacher, wrote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. The expert’s assumptions stop them from exploring the full range of possibilities.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to harness the ‘beginners mind’. Remember that to identify the “many possibilities”, you’ll inevitably make mistakes too!

1. Learn a new skill. When you learn something completely new, you need to accept that you are going to trip up a handful of times (or more). This acceptance is you giving yourself permission to fail. Every time you make a mistake, you learn how not-to-do it. This is valuable information, as learning how not-to-do it takes you one step closer to nailing how to do it!

2. Crush your assumptions. Next time you get a difficult problem to solve, take five minutes to identify all of the assumptions that you have about the problem. “It has to be done by the end of the week” or, “I need 10 people to help me do this” and, “We can’t spend more than $10,000” are some examples. Then flip these assumptions to create a new reality that will prompt you to think outside of the box. So: “What if I had to have it done in an hour? What ideas could lead to that happening?” or, “What if I had 100 people to help. What would this look like?”. By forcing yourself to solve your problem from a different point of view, you are exploring some of the possibilities that you had automatically ruled out.

3. Bring in externals. We normally delegate problems to an expert in that field, as they have the relevant experience to solve it. But when the problem requires creative thinking, the expert may not be the best person to solve it. Remember “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. So, invite people that have no background in the problem to your workshop. Better yet, bring someone from outside of your organisation! These people will see the problem from a completely new perspective.


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