Adopting a Beginner's Mindset

We begin with beginner’s mind, and then, if we’re lucky, we deepen it, or return to it.
Joseph Goldstein

Sarah McNab, Manager of Communications - Adopt a beginner’s mindset, they said. It will be fun, they said. 

What they didn’t say was that while it’s easy to theoretically understand the value of a beginner’s mindset, it’s a lot harder to adopt that attitude of openness and eagerness, free of preconceived notions, particularly when the situation you’re faced with isn’t completely novel. 

When the Communications Branch partnered with Office Services to tackle the Education Centre (EC) Playbook, we realized we had 60+ years of combined experience sitting around the table. Although this represented a great deal of knowledge in one room, we immediately realized that we would need to help each other push the “reset button” to see things from a fresh perspective. Adopting a beginner’s mindset helped us to better understand the people we serve and develop greater empathy for their needs. It also gave us the freedom to question the status quo as we worked through the different phases in the playbook.

Working collaboratively with Office Services also helped our team to develop a better understanding of the types of services they provide to stakeholders, some of which are closely aligned with those offered by our branch. We had a lot of fun getting to know each other while sharing secrets and building marshmallow towers during icebreaker activities. All of us were a bit surprised when we ended up brainstorming very similar opportunities for actions. Working collaboratively also led to the realization that together, we are stronger.

When it came time to branch off and frame our insights into How Might (HMW) questions, Communications agreed that its priority areas would be to try and build staff capacity on effective communications practices, create more synergy through engaging communications structures and reinforce to staff that operational decisions must be school and student-centred by stressing the importance of starting with “why.”

Then, inspired by conversations with school administrators, area directors, teaching staff, office professionals and the Superintendent, we began to envision prototypes to address some of these HMW questions. Again, we were challenged to cultivate a beginner’s mindset, because according to Shunryu Suzuki, “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

We also were challenged to not get ahead of ourselves. Like others we’ve since spoken to, we often jumped right to finding a detailed solution first, which is more aligned with the idea of piloting an initiative. According to IDEO, prototyping is the stage of the design-thinking process where ideas come to life. It is a risk-averse way to introduce your idea to the people you are trying to support and meant to spark early conversations that might start with, “I wonder what would happen if we did this?”

We kept this in mind as we talked through the idea of introducing Lunch & Learns as one way to help build staff knowledge of effective communications practices. In the spirit of prototyping, we have committed to seeking feedback from EC staff on the idea before we even move forward with hosting the first session. This will be a shift in practice for us, as we have typically piloted initiatives. 

As the Communications Branch prepares to move into the Document phase, we are all in agreement that we are more comfortable with the concept of design thinking and have a much better understanding of how the EC Playbook can help us support schools in the enactment of the Four Year Plan. But I hope that we don’t get too comfortable, because that doesn’t lend itself as well to embracing that true beginner’s mindset!