Humility And The Beginner’s Mind

I’m a big fan of the Hidden Brain podcast. If you haven’t listened, you should. This morning, I enjoyed the episode, “Rebel With A Cause” featuring Francesca Gino from HBS, and it had so much to unpack.

I’ll focus on one aspect of her work: The meaning of humility and the beginner’s mind.

The first thing in the episode that caught my attention came from the host, Shankar Vedantam, who said, in response to a story about Captain Sully:

“…[there’s] this tension between expertise and experimentation. So if you have the expertise, but you’re not willing to experiment, you become predictable. You become boring. But if you experiment without having the expertise, you know, that can be amateurish. If you asked me to land a plane in the Hudson River, it’s going to end in disaster. So there’s something that happens when you combine expertise with experimentation. That’s where the magic is.”

As a practitioner of experimentation and incubation, I felt like he framed and articulated that interplay between expertise and experimentation so well.

Shortly after, Gino was talking about Sully:

“One of the things that is true about him is that every time he walked on a plane, he asked himself the question, what is it that I could learn? How is it that this could be different? He had that type of intellectual humility that kept him open-minded despite the fact that he was accumulating throughout his career a lot of experience. That’s what often we miss out on. We gain experience. And by gaining experience and knowledge, we believe that we all have the right answer. And we don’t stay humble. We don’t have that type of intellectual humility that keeps us focused on what’s left to learn rather than what it is that we know already.”

Captain Sully stayed humble and was always looking at new ways to do things even though he was an expert. He understood that there’s always more to learn, no matter how much you know. Contexts will shift, and what you knew in one context may be useless in the new context. He always kept that beginner’s mind. However, when it was ‘go time’ and his plane was literally crashing, he didn’t freak out about all the things he didn’t know in this new context, he relied on his expertise and chose an approach that saved the almost 300 people on his plane.

Lastly, there was a segment on vulnerability, and they featured the classic Maurice Cheeks Star-Spangled Banner performance. If you haven’t watched it, it’s evidence that there are amazing people in the world, and shows a compelling overlap between Sully and Cheeks.

Mo Cheeks National Anthem

As they point out, Cheeks does not have a good voice, not by any stretch of the imagination. And he had certainly never been in the singer’s shoes either. He’d likely sung the National Anthem hundreds of times (like many of us), but never for a crowd. But he saw someone struggling and put himself in a vulnerable position to help. He drew on his knowledge (of the lyrics), and his role (as a leader), and his authenticity was, and is, contagious.

My professional world view is that humility, innovation, and customer experience are all tied together in a complex way worth exploring. I bring a beginner’s mind to this journey, because there is so much to learn, and our industry is always evolving. I am thankful for likeminded people joining this adventure in pursuit of mastery.

Thanks for reading. The episode was amazing! Go listen to it. I liked it enough that I bought Gino’s book, Rebel Talent.

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