How to see things afresh


Mark Twain said that once he had learned the analytic knowledge required to navigate the Mississippi, the river lost its beauty.

The problem with being an expert is that you know too much.

And that knowledge gets in the way of being able to see or experience what is in front of you.

A friend of mine, an editor, says that it’s difficult to watch a film now and just enjoy the story – because the urge to take it apart and dissect it is too much.

One answer, apparently, is to get drunk quickly, and that makes it easier to sit through the experience.

Then again, this is not a new problem.

Toys ‘R’ Us, for example, has 64,000 employees and 1,600 stores in the US but that didn’t stop it having to start bankruptcy proceedings, unable to compete against the likes of Amazon.

Organizations that were once brilliant at what they did, presumably staffed with experts, have simply become irrelevant as the world changed around them, but their maps did not.

So, what can you do to try and see the world as it rather than how you think it is?

It might help to start by avoiding meetings.

Too many meetings are too long and are spent waiting for someone else to stop talking so you can say what you think.

A better approach might be to try and stay in beginner’s mind.

The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki says in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Instead of meetings, it may be better to engage in dialogue.

A formal version of this is Bohm Dialogue, a form of talking proposed by David Bohm, an American theoretical physicist, who suggested engaging in a free-flowing, non-judgemental group conversation that helps people to come to a common understanding of everyone’s point of view.

One technique for facilitating it is to borrow from Improv, the art of spontaneous theatre based around “Yes, and…”, where someone says something and you have to start your next sentence with “Yes, and…” and then make your point.

This suspends judgement, as you have to build on the previous statement rather than stopping to critique it.

Another approach is the Japanese method of seeking opinions from the most junior member present first.

This means that they can speak without having to say something that might contradict what their boss said if they went second – in which case they might not say anything at all instead.

The point is that becoming an expert takes time.

And then, perhaps frustratingly, it’s going to take even more time and practice to become a beginner again.

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