UNLOCK BEGINNER’S MIND
Back in the ‘70’s I ran across a small book of distilled teachings taken from talks given by Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki, ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND.
There was this quote in it:
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
It spoke to me, that quote, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to unpack the thing.
I’ll probably do other posts about Beginner Mind, so all I’ll say about it right now is that Beginner Mind is an ancient wisdom teaching that helps you develop what educator Barbara Oakley dubbed a “growth mindset.”
This way of thinking keeps you from locking into fixating on the same-old “shoulds” and “musts” and “that’s-the-way-it-is” that all of us humans tend to create as we experience life.
Beginner Mind is expansive. It’s not cluttered up by a lot of specious assumptions, expectations and preconceptions.
A gear-head analogy for Beginner Mind would be something like attaching a satellite dish to some receptor or other and having access to a whole bunch of channels.
Martial artists wax poetic about standing receptive to whatever comes at them when they talk about Beginner Mind. Whatever. Beginner Mind is a very cool tool to have in your Life Toolbox.
That’s been my take on Beginner Mind for a while now.
It may be why the YouTube video, “Nurturing a Beginner’s Mind,” that I’ll be sharing with you towards the end of this post caught my attention. The video is a production of INKtalk, an off-shoot of the TEDtalk phenomenon. INKtalk was organized by Lakshmi Pratury, who put together the first TEDIndia talks in Myosore in 2009.
(The reason the video’s at the end of this post is mostly because it introduced me to some other fascinating side-trails that I think are also worth exploring. Come take a look!)
TALKING ABOUT INK
The video I’m going to share with you (after a bit of dancing around) is an INKtalk published on YouTube in 2013.
It is one of a series of talks that have happened during the annual conferences, mini-conferences and salons coordinated and produced by INK, self-described as “India’s foremost platform for the exchange of cutting-edge ideas and inspiring stories.”
Pratury wants the world to see INK as “a curator of contemporary oral history.”
The organization, she says, searches the world looking for people with stories and missions that center around innovative solutions for the broad scale problems that plague young economies, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
The stories they have gathered together are about innovative, world-changing ideas that address problems in recurring societal issues like education, governance, energy, health, poverty, and infrastructure and do make for some very interesting reading.
ANOTHER WAY OF SCHOOLING
In the upcoming INKtalk video, Saba Ghole, a former architectural urban designer who became an education and technology entrepreneur, talks about the work she and the members of her team do at the NuVu Studio at Cambridge University.
Ghole is one of the co-founders of the NuVu Studio, which was a brainchild of fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus Saeed Arida.
As part of his Ph.D. dissertation while at MIT, Arida explored the concept of a learning place modeled on the apprenticeship and project-based learning and hands-on problem-solving that is characteristic of an architectural studio. Before he graduated, Arida implemented an on-campus pilot program at the Beaver Day Country School in Brookline. This pilot was so successful that it led to an even larger project.
Arida collaborated with Ghole and another fellow MIT student David Wang, an engineer and technology enthusiast, to launch NuVu Studio in 2010.
Wang collects degrees, it seems. He’s got them in aeronautics, astronautics, electrical engineering and computer science.
The three friends have a penchant for collaboration and they continue to gather people together so they can help other Makers build cool stuff.
NuVu Studio has become an amazing “innovation studio” that is an alternative full-time, trimester-length schooling experience for middle and high school students — baby Makers who want to learn how to grow their spirit of innovation and to experience hands-on, real-world problem-solving of the finest kind.
More than 3,000 students – mostly from the local schools in the Boston area — have gone through the program since it began.
It is a far cry from your regular school experience, as this short video, “What is NuVu,” published by HarvardX in 2017 illustrates:
Capitalizing on the immense resources of MIT and Harvard University, the Studio facilitates the participation of the students in multi-disciplinary collaborations with Studio-trained “coaches” who are themselves architects, engineers, or experts in science, leading-edge technology, music, art, photography, fashion, and more.
Many of the coaches are MIT or Harvard students who are excited about doing hands-on work in their fields as well.
They work in large open-space studios and workshops using state-of-the-art tools that include things like laser cutters, 3D printers, as well as more mundane tools and assorted building materials.
Here, students don’t get grades – they have portfolios showcasing their work and progress. Problems are tackled in weeks-long blocks rather than hour-long classes.
The students are challenged to learn in new ways.
Analytical thinkers are inspired to explore their creative selves while creative students expand their capacity to think and learn analytically.
Whole-brain thinking is nurtured and encouraged.
The goal for these students is to make products that solve real-life problems that the students have defined with the help of their coaches using “themes” selected by the organizers.
In 2017, NuVu Studio received a Core77 “Notable Design Education Initiative Award.”
AND NOW FOR THE VIDEO (AND SOME THOUGHTS)….
In the video, Ghole presents a collection of wonderfully clear insights about the components that make up the Beginner’s Mind stance.
(By the time she did the talk Ghole had already been working on helping to grow creativity and innovation for a number of years.)
The three big ideas are as follows:
THE POWER OF MIXING
Mixing together people (experts and neophytes), combining assorted themes that relate back to the real world, and tinkering – also known as breaking and re-making (which includes repurposing and reusing, collaboration with other minds and making use of open sourcing platforms to find ideas) – are the foundations that the Studio uses to encourage and support the students in their efforts to produce novel and effective solutions to problems they have chosen to pursue.
WHAT MAKES THE HEART OF A BEGINNER?
Ghole says the Beginner’s heart is an intriguing mix of Trickster, Craftsman and Poet.
Each of these are archetypes that come with sets of behaviors that are often focused on seeing the world in ways that are different from group-mind and consensus.
NOT 2, NOT 1 (BOTH 2 AND 1)
This is the best iteration I’ve ever seen of the concept of wu, a really esoteric and dizzy-making ancient teaching that proposes that when two ideas (or people) come together, the dynamic interaction, relationship and flow between them produces a third idea or concept or way of moving that combines aspects of both.
She explains the three pairings that the Studio uses to try to ignite new thinking among their students: Process + Product, Mindful + Mindfulness, and Fiction + Reality
I found the whole thing mind-blowing. I hope you enjoy it too.
Here’s a poem:
WHERE IS THAT KNIFE?
If I rehash the old stuff,
They come alive again,
And I make the threads
Just by adding
Strands of thought –
Little, tiny thoughts –
Like fibers crowded together,
Tighter and thicker,
Turning into one heavy-duty rope,
Turning into one huge knot.
Where’s that knife?
I had it a minute ago.
I need it to cut through this stupid knot!
Back to beginner mind….
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Photography In The Garden” by Olds College via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
SOME OTHER POSTS TO EXPLORE:
(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
20 thoughts on “UNLOCK BEGINNER’S MIND”
wow, alot of poems, I can create a coffee book for my table in the livingroom. This site is inspiring and I feel uplifted. I hope to see more reviews and insight. You are quite talented to put this all together. Reading your site can transport you temporarily to a deep connection. I enjoyed reading how NuVu studio created a program to help students and how it enabled thousands of students to become hands on in a field of interest. This is what is needed. A great read. Thank you
Nancy, thanks for your visit and for your kind words. I do appreciate them.
Please do come again….
This is a very interesting post that really makes you think. The poem at the end was beautiful too.
The video by Saba Ghole really gets deeper into the idea of a beginner’s mind. It’s very interesting and a lot of information to take in. I also like the idea of students not recieving grades, it really helps them learn more. Being a student myself, I only learn things up until a test and forget it all when I get the grade I wanted. It feels like a waste sometimes.
Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Ty. I really do encourage you to explore Beginner’s Mind. Just that mindset will definitely have an effect on your boredom with just learning for the grade (and then forgetting the whole thing right afterwards).
The cool thing about using tools like Beginner’s Mind is that it feels less like you’re trying to build something on shifting sand.
If you don’t retain what you supposedly learned, how are you supposed to then use it to build something else that you want to build? That’s kinda disheartening, I think.
Please do come again….
Hi Netta. It’s wonderful what the mind of a beginner can imagine, how far and wide it can travel, how innovative it can be. Like you have rightfully said, the mind of a beginner sees endless possibilities, where the mind of an expert sees but a few.
I would like to ask though, don’t you think that the mind of a beginner is naive? It’s cool that a beginner thinks they can change the status quo, but the expert has been through that stage of exploring endless possibilities, been there, done that, but life has happened to them, as it always will, hence their conclusion of limited possibilities.
Thanks for your visit and for your question. It’s a really good one.
The reason why I’m an advocate of Beginner Mind is probably because I do know a lot of knowledgeable people who are “expert” at something or other. Often their biggest problem, they tell me, is that they can only move in the ways they are trained. They cannot let go of the lessons their experiences have taught them.
One of my friends is a guy who was one of the first Westerners to be trained in a traditional form of Tibetan thangka paintings. His problem is that he is so bounded by his training that he cannot break free of them to flow towards an art-form that is a better expression of where his head is at now.
Beginner Mind is not the same thing as “innocence” or “naivete.” What you are reaching for is the ability to step outside your area of expertise in order to learn new things. You don’t give up or throw away the lessons you’ve already learned well. You just add to them by being open to concepts and ways of doing things about which you are not familiar.
Please do come again….
I feel like I have seen that book before but never read it. The quote that you like has a deep meaning to it. I guess it is the same analogy of an empty glass, there is so much room to learn while the one that is filled half way has so little to fill.
I love the concept of NuVu. I think it is time for us to revolutionize the school system. We need our children to be more creative, there is always a limitation in school.
As always I love the poem as well 🙂
Nuttanee, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. You are right. Beginner Mind is about clearing away old thoughts so you have room to think new ones.
I also liked NuVu very much and wish that it was available to more students.
Please do come again.
Thanks for this great post
Beginners need to be guided in everything. That’s why they need to have an open mind. The problem here is that some of them are too rigid so it could be hectic to teach them new things.
Also, there is a problem of information overload to the beginner so they fail to know the right direction to take.
Mansoor, thank you for the visit and for sharing your thoughts. I do appreciate it.
Please come again.
This sounds out of this world. I feel like in a way its quite like ying and yang? Bringing professionals with people completely new to the idea to come up with new ideas.
I read somewhere once that most discoveries were made on the back of other discoveries and when we share ideas with each other, even better inventions have been made.
I genuinely found it mind blowing but still relevant to creating new ideas and inventions.
Robert, welcome back. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
You are right that new ideas come from mashing up new ideas with old ones and trying to find a way to make it all work well.
I’m glad the post resonated with you.
Please do come again.
Thank you for this mind-expanding post!
I have a long history of teaching kids, and I just loved the concept of NuVu. It really resonated with me. These kids look so confident and have strong personalities because they’re are allowed and encouraged to be themselves in their creative projects, which are, from what I’ve seen, completely unique.
I loved that cylindrical music box that the 14 years old boy designed to be used by people at bus stops! The empowering environment of NuVu obviously supports critical thinking and collaborative approach. It offers a perfect balance of individuality and team work.
I wish every child had an opportunity like this!
Lucie, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I do agree with you about NuVu. It really must be a fantastic experience for the youngsters who have the chance to go through it.
I am so pleased the post resonated with you.
Please do come again.
Great article. I never knew they were doing that in the studios with the young adults. I like the concept of: not 2, not 1 , but 2+1. Coming up with a 3 rd idea. Awesome thanks for the article. Look forward to reading more.
Renee, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you found the post interesting.
Please do come again….
What a great post you have here! It’s really important and I believe that nowadays more than ever to work on that wu concept. Students have the urge to be part of the world and make a difference in every aspect of daily life. When I was a teenager I used to be more conservative than they are in current times.
I find your post very interesting and thorough. Thanks for sharing and keep safe!
Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, António. I’m very pleased you enjoyed the post.
I agree that students these days seem to be a lot more in tune with trying to make a difference in the world. It is awe-inspiring, actually.
Please do come again.
What a true quote that if your mind is empty, it is always ready for something. The older I get, the more I realise that my mind is fixed and the many things that I should and shouldn’t be doing, instead of opening my mind to new beginnings. Students having access to NuVu for exploring innovations, must find it very creative and stimulating. Wish it was available in more schools and areas.
I found the video on “nurturing a beginner’s mind” very inspirational. It really makes one think.
It is always, I think, a challenge to keep on cycling back to beginner’s mind. It really does lead you to some interesting places!
Please do come again, LineCowley.