Beginner’s Mind, Zen Mind


buddhist_monk‘How do they get non stick material to stick on non stick pans?’ A user question posed to Richard Cornish, the columnist of Vexing Culinary Questions. Puzzled and unable to answer, he asked his 8-year-old daughter. ‘Simple,’ she replied, ‘It’s non stick on one side only!’

Ahh the genius of kids. But what kids have that we tend to lose as adults is what the Zen Masters call ‘a beginner’s mind’ – curious, no tunnel vision and open to possibilities.

As adults  fear of failing particularly in public, can shut down our beginner’s mind. Alain de Botton – British philosopher, writer, and television presenter – explains this stating, ‘Why we fear failing is not just a loss of income, a loss of status. What we fear is the judgment and ridicule of others. And it exists.’

Kids with their beginner’s mind (that anything is possible) on the other hand are uniquely placed to succeed when taking risks, and not being wedded to looking good matters.

For example, Peter Skillman in his TED Talk entitled The Marshmallow Challenge presented teams of 4 with the following resources:

  • 20 strands of spaghetti
  • 1 yard of string
  • 1 yard of tape
  • 1 marshmallow
  • 18 minutes

The goal was to build the tallest freestanding structure, with only one rule: the marshmallow must be on top. Peter Skillman conducted marshmallow challenges all over the world with diverse teams – engineers, business school students, leaders and entrepreneurs. His findings are packed with insights. But the most astonishing finding is when Skillman declares, ‘Kindergarteners on every objective measure had the highest average score of any group that I have ever tested.’

5-year-olds consistently outperformed adults. The best towers were always built by kindergarteners. As Skillman puts it, kindergarteners kicked ass!

The beauty and joy of the beginner’s mind. Today, what challenge can you bring a beginner’s mind to?

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6 Comments
  • Sundar Rajamanickam
    Reply

    Very interesting to know this. I never thought kids accomplish more and better in some situations. In our jobs, I tell the team to follow KISS – Keep it simple stupid and come with out of the box, simple solutions.
    I would be curious to know how the kindergartners built the free standing tower 😉

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Hi Sundar
      The KISS principle is classic isn’t it. Best to watch the ted talk videos, basically the kids jumped straight into it, were not afraid of trying and redoing the tower. Adults spent too much time talking about it, and being scared to challenge each other or try different ways. Interestingly business students performed the worst!
      Best wishes
      Yamini

  • Linda Gravina
    Reply

    Couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of your post Yamini. My 12 year old daughter constantly amazes me with her problem solving. Just re the Marshmallow Challenge, I ran this session with groups internally in our company as part of an Innovation themed learning event couple years ago. It was so much fun and really landed the idea of challenging assumptions, getting fresh perspectives, using the diversity in your team etc. Highly recommend it. We also built in around it some messages about experimentation, iterative learning, prototyping early etc. Thanks for your post.

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Linda thank you so much. What a fun practical and yet insightful way to challenge assumptions and get fresh perspectives. I’m sure the participants remember it to this day. Thank you for sharing.
      Best wishes
      Yamini

  • Monika
    Reply

    Hi There
    I was scrolling through today’s emails looking for some inspiration – actually procrastinating as I’ve got a problem I don’t know how to approach. I can across your article and it sparked my attention and really resonated with them. I then went back to my problem and applied a very simple solution to resolve….and it works.
    Thank you

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Hi Monika
      So good to hear from you and hear that you found the inspiration and solution you needed! Simple is best isn’t it? Sometimes we over complicate stuff as adults. Good luck.
      Best wishes
      Yamini

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