The other evening as I came home with my kids, we played one of our games. “I wonder who lives here?” we said, our eyes bright with anticipation. We peered around corners. We made observations and inferences. The kids drew all sorts of bizarre conclusions. “I hope they are friendly. Look, they have planted flowers everywhere. Bad guys don’t plant flowers.” “This house smells like nice people live here. Let’s stay for dinner.” It’s fun. It also makes us look at our home in a new light. It’s foreign territory. It could be dangerous but we hope not. Maybe a family of raccoons live here who want to feed us fish and cheeze-its. Eventually someone declares “Wait, this is our house!”
Have you ever had the experience of going back to a place you once lived many years later? It looks mostly as you remember, though you can articulate the changes. But some perceptual shift has taken place. It isn’t the same place. It is qualitatively different than it was before in a way you can’t put your finger on. This is the same kind if thing. We stopped seeing what we expected to see. We see with fresh eyes.
In the last post I went on rather pedantically about what leaders need to do to “see clearly.” I want to say it again more simply. To see clearly, we need to continually practice seeing with a beginner’s eye, thinking with a beginner’s mind. What if I were seeing this thing for the first time? This problem, this person, this company or industry. What would look different? Options include: Not much, everything, or that one little thing that changes the game.
To see clearly, you need to see what is there, not what you expect to see. This is sort of hard because our brains are wired to be conservative and make short cuts. We unconsciously employ perceptual filters and cognitive biases. You have to practice hard to overcome them. Play games to loosen your mind’s grip on assumptions. Use Jedi mind tricks to question everything (what if these aren’t the droids you’re looking for?).
There is a universe of possibilities hiding behind what you think you see.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” –Shunryu Suzuki
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