The expert knows what to do. All that’s needed is a quick look at the problem and - because they have dealt with it before - the expert knows how to fix it. Flat tyre, change the tyre. Broken arm, put it in plaster. If you’re hiring a mechanic or a doctor, you don’t want them ‘not knowing’. Which is fine for these simple, repeatable-in-all-relevant aspects problems.
But if it’s more complex, perhaps a new problem, a tangle, an unexpected turn of events, political, multi-stakeholder or strikingly different - to mention just a few examples of the most challenging problems we now face - then a beginner mind may offer advantages.
The beginner mind means not leaping directly to a solution. It’s about facing the challenge as if it were fresh. Now you can contemplate if from a variety of angles, agnostic as to the next steps until you decide on those that seems most likely to work.
A beginner mind allows you to embrace the quality of the interaction as it unfolds. If you are in a meeting, instead of being pressured to offer instant suggestions, you can ask questions and listen, let people in the group find their own solutions.
This clearly has the flavour of a coaching approach, in which one function of the coach is to develop the skills, confidence and resourcefulness of the client. If the coach happens also to be the boss, then over time they’ll have a workforce that takes on more responsibility and more of the workload with more success.
Yes, says the client at the end of the conversation, I know what to do, and feel sufficient confidence about the next step.
So staying with beginner’s mind is also staying in the moment. In doing this, you resist reaching for theories or explanations, and you are able to be more attentive and available to notice what matters and what might make a difference.
Here beginner’s mind connects with mindfulness. We remain within the field of possibility that is the present - not stuck back in the past or projecting into a future.
What is the moment? You can think of it as your surface of attention. As consultants or coaches, we are working with directing people’s attention, probably towards aspects of what we think will be helpful. We can, for example, draw attention to what participants want, to what’s going on that’s useful that they might otherwise miss.
During a conversation we can notice changes in perspective, without necessarily doing anything particular about them. Until the beginner mind makes an assessment and turns towards a decisive action.