Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beginner's Mind vs. Beginner's Mindset

There is a Zen concept called the "Beginner's Mind." It basically amounts to this: When you don't know what you don't know, there are an unlimited number of possibilities. But when you become educated and experienced, you have fewer possibilities. Well, you see few possibilities.

And so we are encouraged to adopt a Beginner's Mind when it comes to our work. You've probably heard someone say something like, "I did it because I didn't know it couldn't be done." That's a very common thing for people who are young and new to a profession. There are a couple of components at play here. One is that inexperienced people try different things and figure stuff out while older, more experienced people don't.

The other component is that the world keeps changing, especially with technology. So some things you knew in the past simply aren't true anymore. What was once impossible is now possible. This progression has always taken place. Less than a hundred years ago it was impossible to travel faster than the speed of sound or to get a message all the way around instantaneously. It was impossible to see what babies looked like in the womb or control the spread of mosquitoes.

One of the reasons I love to hire young people and keep them around is that they don't know what's impossible. So they try new things and they bring a certain Beginner's Mind to the workplace.

I encourage you to cultivate a Beginner's Mind in your work. What might be possible with marketing? With tech support delivery? With cloud service offerings? And so forth.

Beginner's Mindset is Different

In business, there's a mostly-unrelated view of the world, which I call Beginner's Mindset. This is the mindset we have as young entrepreneurs when we start a business - and we need every dollar.

Most people fail to create a business plan before they start their business. They fail to identify a specific clientele. They fail to create a budget. And they fail to create a standardized offering that they can sell again and again.

And most of them fail. Most businesses fail. Most start-ups fail.

What happens when you have a Beginner's Mindset is that you don't really have a business yet. You are figuring it out as you go along. You try something different every day (and with every prospect). You're trying to see what works so you can go do that.

Warning: While a Beginner's Mind is a good thing, a Beginner's Mindset is very bad.

As your business matures, one of three things can happen. 1) Your random unplanned behavior is unfruitful and you go out of business. 2) You standardize a lot of things and manage to get by. Sometimes you make money and sometimes you need to "loan" money to the business. 3) You go back and do the things you should have done first. Then you thrive, your business is profitable, and you make money.

Unfortunately, too many people are stuck on #2. They fixed some things, but they still don't have a business plan, still take any client who comes along, still don't have a budget, and have very few standard procedures. They get by.

The problem with continuing to Get By is that you have to THRIVE in order to be truly successful. Getting by means you're always surprised by tax bills or sudden expenses. Getting by means you can't rely on a regular salary for yourself. Getting by means you spend every penny you have, leaving nothing left over for savings.

Getting by means you have a JOB, not a business.

You can get by for a loooooong time without going out of business. One year you put some money in the bank; the next, you take money out to make payroll. When times are good you buy new equipment. When times are bad, you lay people off. Because you have no budget, you also have no targets. And you have no consistency.

When I lived in Michigan, many years ago, I had several neighbors who worked in the auto industry. It was the ultimate boom-and-bust economy. When cars were selling like crazy, everyone had money. They bought boats and big, brand new BBQs. When car sales slumped, they sold their boats and BBQs. Some even went on public assistance.

That's the ultimate example of relying on a job over which you have no control and no influence. If someone wants to hire you, they do. If not, they don't.

A professional consulting business should NOT be like that. You need to build a clientele who know you, love you, and will be there year after year. You need to have standard operating procedures for running your company and delivering services. You need to build a system that works - every day, every month, every year.

Failing and Learning

Over time we all have victories and failures. And you hear all the time that you need to fail in order to succeed. But there's another important element: You need to learn from your failures. Just failing makes you really good at failing.

If you don't learn from your failures, then you'll never succeed.

You've heard the story of Thomas Edison working to create the light bulb. The truth is, creating "a" light bulb was not difficult. Edison wanted to create a practical, long-lasting light bulb that could be sold for a reasonable price. To do that, he needed to create the right filament and either light it in a vacuum or in the presence of the right gas.

In all, Edison tested more than 6,000 variations before he came up with a commercially viable filament. And I assure you, he did not randomly try one thing after another, guessing at what to do next. He recorded each experiment. He created a process for testing each variation. He was organized and systematic. He did not repeat failed experiments again and again because he kept meticulous records.

He learned from each failure.

As you move away from a Beginner's Mindset to a Professional Mindset, you need to do the same thing. Figure out what's not working in your business (what's failing). Write it down. Fix it. Write down the fix and turn it into a company policy or a standard operating procedure. Create an overall model to constantly improve. Create repeatable success in every piece of your business.

That means you need to slow down a bit. Look at it from a fresh perspective. Move from a Beginner's Mindset to a Beginner's Mind.


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