In organizations, we often gravitate towards routinized processes. Sometimes these processes are used to deploy a new initiative, to on-board a new hire, or to learn a new skillset. Large organizations are built on these structures to maximize efficiency and produce large quantities, which makes sense because processes help set expectations, create structure, and limit unpredictability. However, the shadow side of these routinized structures is that it’s harder to look at problems with a fresh perspective. In these situations, the mantra tends to be “we always do it this way” rather than “how can we solve it this time?”
When it comes to these structures, we often don’t give enough time to reflect and challenge the processes that have become the backbone of our workflow. When, if ever, do we take a minute to look back on these processes? Do we ever give ourselves a chance to question what’s wrong, or what might be missing? Our immediate tendency is to stick with what we know – and over time, we become habituated to this knowledge. It’s easier to go 10 steps (because you know it better as a habit) than to discover a new way that might only take 3 steps. We like knowing what we know.
There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable or yearning for the familiar – in fact, habituation helps to ease the cognitive load from our brain from every new situation we encounter. At the same time, habituation also keeps us from taking risks or exploring new avenues of thinking. It can handicap us from noticing the little details. These details become invisible as we accept the status quo and incorporate them into our daily life of what’s “normal.”
My painting professor once advised me to see. “Open your eyes,” he said, “Look.” The words sounded so basic – of course, I’m opening my eyes as I paint! But once I let go of what I knew — that a vase was sitting among a collection of random household objects – and concentrated on simply what I was seeing, I saw that the color white on the vase wasn’t white. Rather, the white was pink, blue, and green, picking up the reflection of the wall, the floral plate surrounding the pot, the light blue cloth draped to the side. Letting go of what I assumed was white made me see so much more.
Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is when he or she grows up, is how to remain an artist.” Children have the most curiosity. They live in the present and view even ordinary things as magical. They haven’t been around long enough to get used to problems, and they ask questions in search for an answer.
Being a beginner can feel unsettling. It’s nerve-wracking to feel like you’re not an expert, to go from the position of answering questions to asking questions. But as beginners, we have the power to see the world more clearly. If our minds are empty of pre-conceived ideas and we set aside the habits that we’ve formed, we are open to the unknown. Every moment now presents new challenges, and we won’t miss anything in the experience with a fresh pair of eyes. We can be truly empathetic to those we want to serve. Staying a beginner allows us to experience the world with a new perspective and just might be what allows us to solve a problem that no one sees.
So, my challenge to you: give yourself a chance to be a beginner. Embrace it. Let go of what you know, and start over. Think young, ask why, and explore your curiosity. Don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers — after all, change is what makes the world better.