It is harder for us to see our world and our clients’ world with fresh eyes—the eyes of a beginner. As we professionals acquire more knowledge and experience in our respective industries, it is harder to step into familiar settings as if we’ve entered them for the first time. I’ve worked for large corporations, small businesses and startups, and in recent years, have interviewed dozens of successful entrepreneurs; and this is one of the insights that I’ve gleaned from talking with many of them as well as from observing myself.
The reality is that we place little value on the beginner’s perspective.
We navigate a corporate world that places a premium on specialization. When pitching for a project or a job, we promote ourselves as seasoned practitioners. When did you last read a company’s profile or a résumé that mentioned, “unparalleled expertise, local knowledge, global reach, with a beginner’s fresh eyes?”
In fact, many of us haven’t had fresh eyes for a while. We are so pressed for time that we only focus on daily priorities and we stop seeing old things, let alone new things. We take the same road to and from work everyday. We don’t see most of the buildings en route until a structure is demolished; then we can’t recall what was there before. We are bombarded with new data and images around the clock. Often we don’t have time for articles of interest; we only scan industry updates, if at all.
Seldom do we digest what’s in front of us with the perspective of a beginner.
Yet why is this important? Because it takes a pair of fresh eyes to notice something askew while a team of startup professionals who have been working on a product for weeks misses. It takes a pair of fresh eyes to offer new solutions that is not tinted with industry biases. This is not to say that those with industry knowledge can’t have fresh eyes. Beyond these reasons, it takes fresh eyes to enjoy all the beauty and inspiration that daily life offers, to see and learn new ways of doing things, of solving problems, of growing.
Learn how to make the familiar strange.
The late 19th century Prussian poet Rainer Maria Rilke advised his young protégé Kappus, “Resolve to always be beginning—to be a beginner.” This advice resonated with me when I read Rilke during my first semester in college. It connected me back to the first time I visited my alma mater’s campus. I can still recall the awe and the excitement of stepping into a new environment of possibilities, and figuring out how to forge ahead. Since then I’ve tried hard to find that awe, and it has not been easy. Rather, it has been a continual challenge.
Yet I believe it is an essential quality we should all cultivate and possess: the ability to check one’s expertise and experience at the door, and to see an old situation or a challenge with fresh eyes—through the eyes of a beginner.
Do you have fresh eyes? What do you see in your daily landscape? What do you not notice? When did you last experience something as a beginner, when did you last sense wonder? Do you bring that excitement for possibilities into daily life, or is it missing from your landscape? If you cannot recall this in recent memory, perhaps it is time to step away from your routine and give yourself a chance to regain your fresh eyes. Some easy steps:
- Take a different route to work and see a different view of your town. Pretend you are a tourist visiting for the first time.
- Sit in a different chair at dinner time and obtain a different view from your new position.
- Pick up a book or sign up for a workshop and learn how artists, potters, or carpenters view challenges and solve problems. If you can, sign up for a class.
You’ve been good at making the strange familiar and at acquiring expertise; now make the familiar strange.
Learn to be a beginner again; and you may become an expert beginner.
© 2013-2015 My-Tien Vo