The Paradox of Mastery

4 Tips To Maintain a Beginner’s Mindset

Date: January 21, Molly Stafford-Mastey

Take a moment to reflect on the last big milestone or goal you reached. Was it a hard-earned promotion? Was it a well-received speaking engagement at an industry conference? Maybe you ran your first half-marathon, or you shot a personal record on your home golf course. Maybe you finally achieved that perfect, feather-light souffle. Whatever it is, take a moment to celebrate. You’ve come a long way!

It’s a great feeling to earn bragging rights, to be considered an expert, to relish in progress and mastery. Who doesn’t want to drink up the accolades that can often accompany hard-earned knowledge, experience, and commitment? But once you find yourself at the top of your game, or in a position of expertise, do you have what it takes to stay there?

The answer to maintaining mastery is a paradox; staying an expert requires also staying a beginner.

Attaining deep levels of experience, advanced knowledge, and strong expertise can come with a risk of falling into a trap of complacency. Experts can become stagnant and out of date, because, well, they may think they already know it all! 

However, beginners don’t carry that same baggage.  By their very nature, beginners tend to be eager, alert, eyes wide open, and ready to learn, grow and experiment. Beginners face new challenges and goals from a curious, fresh, and less biased perspective.

And that’s why the very best and most impressive experts take active measures to hold onto The Beginner’s Mindset.  Curiosity, flexibility, open-mindedness, a willingness to stay on the path of learning, experimentation, and even stumbling and failing along the way, are fundamental to maintaining a Beginner’s Mindset. And it’s that mindset that helps experts retain a position of leadership and mastery in their chosen fields.

At KNow Research, we hope our clients find value not only in our abilities and expertise as researchers but also in our commitment to incorporating The Beginner’s Mindset in our work.  And, we encourage even our most senior and experienced clients and partners to adopt this mindset as well. 

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Buddhist Monk, and Teacher

If you’re still in the process of defining your 2022 intentions and resolutions, we invite you to join us in a commitment to maintaining The Beginner’s Mindset.  Here are 4 tips to get you started...

1. Roll Up Your Sleeves!

Staying committed to growth and maintaining a Beginner’s Mindset means opening yourself up to discomfort and exerting effort.  Creative, innovative breakthroughs and solutions don’t happen at the surface of the “known” – it comes from the deep dig into the unknown, trying new approaches, experimenting with different perspectives, and asking new questions. As insights professionals, the team at KNow approaches every project with a “roll up your sleeves” mindset, staying dedicated to the satisfying and rewarding effort of learning.

2. Ask the New Kid

While it can sometimes be tough to drop the ego that can accompany knowledge, the very best experts invite in perspective from others and are open to learning new things. And, the one with the freshest, most vibrant, and intriguing perspective just might be the new kid on the block – the newest member of the team, the most junior member of the project, or even someone in a different function.

Patrice Gordon, an executive coach, describes the benefits of “reverse mentorship,” when senior members actively engage and learn from more junior members of the team. You can learn more about it from her 2021 interview with Brene Brown.

3. Clean the Slate

At the start of a new project, take some time to reflect on any potential assumptions, biases, or preconceived notions you may have about the work.  Where did these pre-conceived ideas come from?  Think about any relevant personal stories or experiences you or those you know have had. Note any facts and learnings from past studies or from outside resources that might be influencing your ideas and opinions.  What conclusions have you drawn as a result? Can you keep an open mind about challenging these assumptions?

4. Make Room for Pivots and Surprises

Someone who claims to “know it all” is not often surprised. But beginners are surprised often, and to succeed, they recognize that they must be flexible and willing to change their approach along the way. At KNow, we often build in Pivot Buffers and strategic checkpoints with our clients to allow the opportunity to consider new and surprising learnings. As our Fall Intern, Tiffany, noted in her time with us, “being flexible is key,” as is being open to adjusting approaches when needed.

What other tips and strategies do you employ to help you practice The Beginner’s Mindset?  Share your tips with us on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter!

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