Create a Beginner’s Mindset

by: Rick Simmons

As we settle into spring, it’s only natural to focus on renewal, resilience, and fresh starts. After all, seasonal shifts tend to be reflected in our bodies and minds as well. That makes it a particularly effective time to engage with an important technique for navigating new information: creating a beginner’s mindset.

To see the power of this approach in action, we can turn to Marc Benioff, founder, chairman, and co-CEO of Salesforce, a technology company valued at more than $135 billion. Benioff is committed to offering his employees the opportunity to clear their minds and approach challenges that present with a fresh perspective.

Though office culture has shifted significantly over the past year, prior to the pandemic, Salesforce made space—literally and figuratively—to cultivate a beginner’s mindset at work. The majority of Salesforce’s offices have “mindfulness zones” on every floor—clean, quiet spaces with mats and meditation cushions. The idea was that employees could unplug for a moment, placing their phones in a basket at the door, and use the silence to tap into new ideas. “Innovation is a core value at Salesforce,” Benioff said, “It is deeply embedded in our culture. This starts in the mindset of every person in the company—you must cultivate a beginner’s mind…. A beginner’s mind is the practice of looking at the world with fresh, unencumbered eyes, and avoiding inside-out or homogenous thinking that can lead to blind spots or missed opportunities.”

The concept originates in Zen Buddhism, which instructs practitioners to maintain an open mind and avoid judgment, no matter how familiar a particular subject becomes. You can imagine how powerful adopting this mindset can be within the context of liminal space, and a quote from Benioff about his own reliance on the beginner’s mindset reflects that: “Having a beginner’s mind informs my management style. I’m trying to listen deeply, and the beginner’s mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was. I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment.”

That kind of presence is key to navigating periods of uncertainty for yourself, and making the best possible decisions for your team as well.

Of course, you don’t need a billion-dollar business to approach a particular issue or opportunity as if you’re seeing it for the first time. You don’t even need a formal office space. Simply choose an environment with fewer distractions, whether that’s an empty room in your home or a winding path in a local park, leave your devices behind, and make room for that fresh perspective. The season’s new growth will only help things along.

Our book, Unleashed: Harnessing the Power of Liminal Space, forthcoming from ForbesBooks, lays out what we’ve learned about how embracing a beginner’s mindset and many other strategies that offer a break from day-to-day patterns provide individuals, teams, and organizations with opportunities to reach new heights.

Catherine Clifford, “Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff: Why We have ‘Mindfulness Zones’ Where Employees Put Away Phones, Clear Their Minds,” CNBC Make It, November 5, 2019.