Note: This blog was written by Eileen Mandir, a current student of Newfield’s Certified Coach Training Program. She is on a mission to bring coaching to leaders and teams in a way that can reach the grassroots of organizations. She engages with her clients in collective learning to help them tap into their innovative potential. She has worked in the fields of corporate innovation, organizational learning, corporate culture, creative empowerment, servant leadership and agile collaboration. She considers herself to be a passionate agent of change.
The most vivid memory I have of my former corporate job as a product manager is a conversation I had with my boss.
“Eileen, you are so naive!” he said. I responded, “Thank you!”
Why was it a compliment to me? Because conversations in which I am in my most naive state are the ones that create moments of huge potential. They open up worlds of possibility that are not there when I believe I know.
The most common definition of naive is:
Having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous: She's so naive she believes everything she reads. He has a very naive attitude toward politics.
The most prominent association with naive in our society is credulous, or in other words, gullible, and this is often also associated with lack of experience.
For me, however, lack of experience needn’t always be coupled with being gullible. In fact, lack of experience, being a beginner, can be a beautiful thing. The magic of every learning journey shows itself in the very beginning. When our experience has not extinguished our wonder. Success is the result of practice and perseverance… if, and only if, you can sustain the magic of maintaining the beginner’s mind as you grow competent.
Let me explain.
As a newbie researcher, I wanted to be of service by creating insights that matter to society. My curiosity fueled my perseverance to learn new techniques and train my skills. When I applied the new tools I had learned, I did so with the intention to ask new questions—ones no one had ever asked! And sometimes, using the “wrong” tool turned out to be the right thing to do.
Over time I became a professional researcher. I knew which were the “right” tools to deliver scientific answers. But, I stopped asking questions that mattered because that would have meant questioning my tools. As I gained experience in research, I knew which were the right tools and that way of thinking limited the questions I would dare to ask.
Later, I found myself head over heels in love with managing a product engineering team. I knew nothing about management, but my intention was simple: enable people to collaborate so they could build something that mattered to customers. My naïveté around management was the very thing that allowed me to be a better manager.
Of course, experience and skillful execution are irreplaceable assets in any profession. But, as our experience grows, it shapes our expectations of what is likely, what is possible and what is impossible.
What if experience and wonder could live side by side? In a dance with each other?
Robert B. Dilts put it this way when he wrote about the creative genius, Walt Disney: "…there were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist, and the spoiler.” The dreamer, unlike the other two, is a quiet, kind, and modest friend. She will never demand your attention. You need to make time to visit her once in a while.
Having conversations with my dreamer has become a regular practice for me. Whenever I have the feeling I want to turn to YouTube or Facebook, I instead visit my dreamer. For these visits, I have a hat that I wear, and it reminds me that I am in the space of not knowing.
What practice can you create to meet with you dreamer self? What (dress up, dancing in your living room, gazing at the stars…) puts you in touch with wonder, with “what if?”, with the ability to say, “I don’t know, so let’s explore”? The more you can allow yourself to be in these spaces, the more you will be amazed at what not knowing can bring.