While I was flying out to San Jose this afternoon, I was re-reading Garr Reynolds’ new book Presentation Zen. If you haven’t read this book yet, run and out and get it now. It is the antidote to death by PowerPoint. One thought that struck me for a second time in Garr’s book is the idea of the “beginner’s mind” or the child’s mind. The beginner’s mind is a concept that comes to us from Zen teachings that, according to Garr, says “like a child, one who approaches life with a beginner’s mind is fresh, enthusiastic, and open to the vast possibilities of ideas and solutions before them”. Garr goes on to expound that “when you approach a new challenge as a true beginner (even if you’re a seasoned adult), you need not be saddled with fear of failure or of making mistakes.”
We can do very well on our agile teams if we approach our development tasks with the beginner’s mind. Developers are, believe it or not, creative people. If we all decided to think with a beginner’s mind about the solutions we develop, we might be able to create extraordinary software. OK, maybe not always extraordinary, but we might provide innovative solutions that were unexpected.
We can learn even more by adopting the beginner’s mind when we approach how we work. We should always be open to different ways of doing things and not be afraid to make mistakes. In our agile practices, in our planning meetings, and in our retrospectives we should think like beginners about ways we can do things differently. If we use the beginner’s mind, we can stop constraining ourselves to the “rules” of agile and really think about creative ways we can work better, smarter, and faster.
The opposite of the beginner’s mind is the expert’s mind. If we approach things with the expert’s mind, we think we have all the answers and know the ways things ought to be done. I believe the expert mind leads to “methodologies” and “processes” instead of practices. The expert mind assumes that if we know the way things should be done, we can follow the stepwise recipe for success. I think there is a contingent out there today in the development world that works using the expert mind. They approach projects with a methodology and try to enforce strict processes to achieve success. Follow the logical steps and you’ll deliver the product at the end. You know what I’m referring to…we call it waterfall. It comes from the expert mind that says that the path to success is predefined by years of experience.
I personally believe that success depends on each agile team’s particular situation and the creative solutions those teams devise to complete their tasks and improve the way they work. And, as I said earlier, this creativity relies upon adopting the beginner’s mind. So go ahead…let go. Let the child inside you help you and your team be the best (and most creative) you can be.
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