The Best Way to Become An Expert: Learn to Practice Shoshin

Shoshin kaizen expert
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I think we would all agree we bring unique experiences and skills to the table. That is without any dispute from me. No matter what profession you have chosen, if you have been doing it for any length of time longer than about a year, you have some skills. Over time, you’ve developed these skills and have gotten to a point where you feel like the answers come naturally.

Over my career I have met a lot of smart, intelligent, crafty and innovative people from a lot of different industries and disciplines. At this moment in history, we have more information available to us than ever before. We are smarter than ever. 

Information and knowledge are at our fingertips. And that can make us feel a certain amount of power, but it can also be a detriment to our improvement. Particularly if we are focusing on personal development. This is because it can create a certain amount of arrogance and as a result can become a blind spot.

I used to think that getting more certifications and acquiring more knowledge would make me a better practitioner of Continuous Improvement. Sound familiar? Although I have more certs and knowledge it doesn’t actually make me better at doing my job.

What I have found that makes me better though, is applying the idea of the Japanese concept of shoshin to my life.

What is shoshin?

Shoshin (初心), can be interpreted as: “Beginner’s mind.” When you approach things with a beginner’s mind it’s as if you’re seeing them for the first time. This is especially important if you consider yourself an expert on a particular topic. 

Shoshin starts from understanding the nature of a moment in time. Every moment you live is different than the last. Each breath you breathe, is a different breath. It has been said that you cannot stand in the same river twice; or that you will never be the same person from one day to the next. The world around us is in constant change. Things are either growing or they’re dying.

Understanding this truth of the universe allows you to be much more at peace with the things that happen around you. Also, being able to embrace the idea of shoshin will allow you to adopt a mindset of curiosity and humility. Two key traits needed to combat the effects of heuristics on your life, which can lead to damaging assumptions. 

Some examples of shoshin could include not approaching learning with preconceived ideas, actively looking for opposing views to your own, and generally just being eager to learn new things.

“All I know is nothing.”— Socrates

Why ignoring heuristics can be damaging

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that your brain creates for you to spend less time thinking about different situations that you come across. Our bodies and minds will use heuristics to help us to walk, drive our cars, and speak. However, heuristics can also cause problems. 

Past experience can cloud judgment; and one situation can be interpreted as being exactly like another. This can automatically create a response that may not be in your best interest. Experts and more experienced practitioners can actually be the worst offenders of this. 

I’ve had to catch myself on instances of this. I have been in the Project Management and Continuous Improvement industry for over 15 years. I have seen a lot of things and worked on a lot of projects. But, when I look closely at the projects I lead, I find they are unique. It doesn’t mean that everything requires a unique solution, just that the problem may not be identical as another that looks similar in outcomes.

Yes I have been in my career for a long time, but time doesn’t necessarily equate to being all-knowing. Each situation is unique, better to approach it with a particular process of problem solving rather than a cookie cutter solution I’ve used before.

“In the most devilishly wicked learning environments, experience will reinforce the exact wrong lessons.” 

— David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Being able to approach situations with shoshin will allow you to appreciate each moment you have, and not make assumptions of how to proceed. What assumptions have you made today that could benefit from a second look?

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