Erroneous assumptions can be disastrous. ~Peter Drucker
I recently became aware of a book just published in January entitled, Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability. The basic premise of the book is that we've shifted from a priority of optimization which implies rigidity, to a time of creativity, innovation, and sustainability in order to be continually adaptive. One of the first concepts presented is the idea of a beginner's mind. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the book to set-up this notion.
As a society of professionals, we've received educations previously reserved for royalty, made travels once only known to explorers, and developed skills in ourselves that are indistinguishable from magic. However, all these concepts we've accumulated are more map than territory: if we fixate our conception of the world on the systems that we build to represent it, we can lose sight of the world. Instead of seeing the world, we see only our ideas about the world. Since we've established that we have all the insight, we don't allow more to come in.
This is why we need to maintain a beginner's mind: a certain playful absence of assumptions. As Shunyru Suzuki writes, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." And since innovation is the result of successive ventures into possibility, we're motivated to immerse ourselves in possibility, to, as Emily Dickinson wrote, "dwell in the possibility," for it is a "fairer house than prose."
Beginner's mind, then, is the practice of approaching our experiences empty of assumptions.
Have you ever been in a meeting, afraid to make a suggestion or ask a question contrary to what's been proposed because you know, from experience, that you'll receive a litany of reasons why your suggestion isn't possible? In other words, it's been established that we have all the insight and we aren't going to allow any more to come in.
A beginner's mind has a certain playful absence of assumptions. Imagine for a moment if our nation's government went about their work with a playful absence of assumptions. First wipe that smile, snicker, or smirk, off your face. We lack an ability to move toward any innovative solutions, to find a third way, to allow for possibilities that just might be lurking outside of our own personal certainty. What if both Congress and the Senate decided to immerse themselves in possibility? Instead, each "side" has established that they have all the insight and won't allow more to come in. We can all see very clearly how well that's working.
What if we showed up at our next meeting and approached it empty of assumptions? We sat down at the conference table and we took everything we've assumed in the past (all the reasons why a project can’t possibly breakeven, all of our stereotypes about specific staff members, etc.) and came with a beginner's mind. Might we uncover an innovative possibility that wasn't even considered in the past? Maybe we'd hear about creative new ways to solve a problem? Instead of starting the meeting with all of our assumptions (which is what we frequently do whether formally or unconsciously), we started that meeting free of any certainties, positive or negative.
Or, we could bring the weight of all those assumptions, some of which are sure to be erroneous, and Drucker tells us the result of that kind of thinking – disaster.