Experienced people need to keep a beginner’s mind

Highly experienced people can do with remembering what it’s like to start out.  Keeping a beginner’s mind can help with humility, joy and fresh perspectives. (3 min read) 

I’ve just finished helping my 6 year old son, G, with his homework. I won’t lie, initially I used to get my partner to do his maths homework with him. I’d sit with him while he did his English or reading work instead. I taught maths at work and I didn’t want to come and do it more at home (also why I’ve never tutored). Additionally, I didn’t want to be a pushy teacher parent and put him off it for life.  However, since he started Year 2 last September I’ve been getting more involved.

Today’s was about different ways that he could fold a rectangular piece of  paper and make it into a halves.  We had fun experimenting and trying new things. Eventually G wanted to do “halves of halves.” Then he wanted to try some triangles. Eventually he proposed something that I knew, with the benefit of experience, wasn’t going to work. I was about to mention it, but then I thought ” well why not just let him try and see what happens?”

G was trying to fold his rectangular paper to make a square and then half that to make triangles. Because of the dimensions and how he folded it I knew it wasn’t going to work but I kept it to myself while he tried it.  At first he was disappointed. Then we explored what had happened.

The result reminded me how wonderful it is to discover a new thing for the first time. G had folded his paper in half 4 successive times when he opened it out to count he was so excited to find that he’d made sixteenths. He’d never made them before. He was so excited that he ran to tell my partner, then he and grabbed each of his 3 year old sisters and told them that he was about to show them “some magic” and got them to to the same with their own bits of paper.

He then spent a further 10 minutes of folding into more halves and discovering 1/32 and 1/64 without any real input from the adults in his life.

Why am I sharing this? For experienced people we can easily take things for granted or become jaded. I’ve  known about fractions for a long time. I have an engineering degree and have taught up to A level and taught other teachers how to teach maths. It would be easy to dismiss this homework and G’s discovery as a trivial thing.  This morning I remembered there is something special about the allowing somebody the space to learn and discover something new for the first time. There is also something special about seeing a familiar task or outcome through beginner’s eyes.

Equally, I’ve spent almost a a decade managing and leading people. For the first time in ages I’ve now chosen not to. It’s good to see things from the other side and remember what it’s like starting out. It’d recommend it to everybody. Especially those in charge of others. Be like Paul Fisher “The Undercover boss” and go back to the floor. Even if it’s only for a short period. Beginner’s mind is essential even for the highly experienced. It keeps you grounded, gives new insights and can be an easy source of joy.

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How do you get experience? By doing the damned thing.

I honestly think that ‘You don’t have enough experience,’ is generally a cop out answer for feedback as to why a person didn’t get a leadership role. Especially if it’s the only reason given. (326 words)

  1. That’s usually pretty obvious from their CV or application form so why waste their time interviewing?
  2. I honestly believe that any competent person can be trained to do the operational bits of most jobs if they have the right training, support and overall ethos or attitude.
  3. I’ve seen people with no experience be given jobs over those who have several times in my career

Anybody remember the TV series, ‘Faking It’? People were given a month to master a new skill, with the help of an expert mentor.  Most went from nothing to doing a pretty competent job. Also Strictly (used to) have people who had never really danced properly and got many up to a decent standard with intensive support from a professional.

I educate young people. None of them were born knowing how to factorise a quadratic equation but with careful teaching, mentoring and support from somebody who knows what they are doing, they learn.

I also develop staff and leaders. I once hired somebody whose boss indicated ‘No leadership potential’ on their reference because I saw something in him. He then went on to have a massive impact in his department and across the school because I and others believed in him and he took and created opportunities.

I’ve also been given roles where I had no direct experience but I learned on the job, I made mistakes and then I got better.

How does somebody get experience? By doing the damed thing. Being supported, given space to learn, reviewing stuff then trying again.

Maybe,  ‘You don’t have enough experience’ really means ‘I’m not willing to or don’t have the capacity to develop you at this time,’ or ‘Your ethos doesn’t fit with ours.’ That would be more honest.