We all get cocky sometimes and think we know a lot about a lot of things. This is probably true; your life experience and education have given you a rich body of experience that you should be proud to share with others.
However, if you go into entrepreneurship for the first time with an attitude that you know everything, you will quickly be humbled by the reality that what you think you know, you really don’t. It is a better strategy to approach your new venture with “beginner mind.”
What is “beginner mind?”
Beginner mind is a state of being where you approach learning with no judgment, censoring, editing or preconceived expectations.
When you are in a state of “beginner mind,” you think things like:
- Wow, this is cool! I wonder how it works?
- That is interesting! Why do you think that?
- I want to learn as much as I can about this topic!
- I really don’t understand this person, but I wonder what makes him tick?
- I can’t wait to get in front of customers to hear what is important to them
- What else? Tell me more.
It is in direct opposition to its cousin “expert mind” where you think things like:
- When is this person going to stop talking so I can share what I know?
- This person is so wrong in her explanation and I can’t wait to prove it to her
- I tried that already and it didn’t work
- I can’t wait to share my 152 Powerpoint slides at my first sales meeting. They will be so impressed with what I say that they will probably buy my product before I leave the building.
- This is a total waste of my time. I am learning nothing.
“Expert mind” can be very dangerous as a new entrepreneur, since you are in a phase of discovery where you need to soak in as much as possible about your new area. Some expert mind traps can be things like:
- “I don’t need to bother learning small business marketing, since I am a certified marketing expert from Corporate U and was the Senior VP of Marketing for the entire globe.”
Mistake: The marketing you know may be very, very far removed from what you need to know to be an effective entrepreneur. Although it may sound similar in concept, in practice it is very different.
- “I know there is a need in the market, since I have studied it extensively online for the last 2 years and have the spreadsheets to prove it. I do not want to bother talking with someone in the market, since I know they will just confirm my research.”Mistake: Nothing substitutes talking to real people in your target market. Many entrepreneurs see the potential of a five billion dollar market in their area. But how many can personally name those that are ready to buy the first ten products?
- “I don’t really want to talk to people that have been in this field for awhile, since they are too “old school” and don’t have half of my fresh ideas or academic degrees.“Mistake: You can learn many, many valuable things from seasoned entrepreneurs in your field. You may not agree with everything they say, but you can avoid many mistakes by listening to what they have learned by hard-fought experience.
I could always spot the difference between “beginner mind” and “expert mind” when I taught martial arts classes in San Francisco. A “beginner mind person” would come into class, introduce himself humbly, and follow all instructions in the first class. He would pay attention, ask lots of questions and carefully watch how I did the movements.
An “expert mind person,” by contrast, would strut in the class and immediately tell me that he was an experienced martial artist. As I was trying to explain the movements, he would focus on watching the more advanced students work out. When I gave a point of direction or corrected a position, he would get a slightly annoyed look on his face as if to say “who are you to tell me what to do?”
The interesting thing is that many times the “beginner mind” person had just as much experience in other martial arts as the “experienced mind” one, he just had a different attitude toward learning. By coming in with a fresh perspective and seeing the art as a beginner, he picked up techniques much quicker and in the long run developed more talent.
Cultivating a beginner mind as an entrepreneur will greatly increase both the depth and pace of your learning, and make the process fun and exciting. You will find that more people are willing to talk with and support you when you are open and non-judgmental.