Friday, August 24, 2007

Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

-Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi

I am coming to believe that the comfort to say "I don't know" is fundamental to being a good investor. Intellectual curiosity, being open to new ideas, and the willingness to momentarily suspend disbelief in the face of unorthodox approaches are vital preconditions to being able to reward disruption.

Ideas, opinions, and expertise get in the way of knowing what we don't know. Given that venture is premised on funding innovation, refusal to admit ignorance, unwillingness to ask for clarification, to avoid learning can blind one to the clarity and creativity that exist in a beginner's mind. "Knowing" does not allow us anything new, no surprises, no insights, no discoveries.

When I worked for Art Samberg, a brilliant investor and founder of Pequot Capital, I was consistently impressed by his ability to listen and to learn. He would often ask people for their views; the chance to showcase knowledge to a billionaire investor would drive people into long monologues. When then asked what he thought, he would often say "I don't know enough about it to comment" and walk out of the room. The lesson: there is no shame in admitting you don't know, rather, the real shame lies in making your "intelligence" so much a part of your identity that you are afraid to ask or admit a lack of knowledge.

The concept of beginner's mind is not limited to Buddhism. Frank Herbert said, "The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.” While Proust wrote, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

Our learnings and experiences often help us process a complex world, however, I believe that it is important that we work to maintain beginner's mind over and over again in order to not let "knowledge" trap us from seeing innovation and possibilities.


  1. Nice point. I agree. Curiosity is pretty liberating -- and it's fun to admit that you don't know what you are doing sometimes and get to ask all kinds of questions without being self-conscious about doing so.

  2. Very good article Will. thanks for sharing. I also admire people willing to go from "area" of learning to another "field" seamlessly. They always pique my attention.