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Shoshin: The Beginner’s Mind

Creativity and Innovation

There is a concept in Zen Buddhism known as shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.”

Shoshin refers to the idea of letting go of your preconceptions and having an attitude of openness when studying a subject.

When you are a true beginner, your mind is empty and open.

You’re willing to learn and consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time.

As you develop knowledge and expertise, however, your mind naturally becomes more closed.

You tend to think, “I already know how to do this” and you become less open to new information.

Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen teacher, describes the issue like this:

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

You might even begin suffering from the Einstellung Effect, where your previous knowledge prevents you seeing information or solutions which someone without your knowledge has.

When it comes to developing new innovations, it can be valuable to develop a Beginner’s Mind when finding out what customers want.

Often, we can become overwhelmed by our experience and expectations of what the customer should think. This can make us blind to what they actually think, what they tell us and how they behave.

A key part of the ethnographic research at the core of many Design Thinking principles is to be an unbiased observer of people, and to just see what they do without judgement. This requires a neutral, Beginner’s Mind.

So if you are struggling to solve a wicked problem, or finding out what it will take for your innovation to succeed, it might be worth stepping back and developing your own shoshin.

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