Road Signs For Success – August 20, 2008

By Kay Caldwell

A few years ago, I planned a conference for Southwest Airlines Reservations Department. We were about to make a major change in that department so I wanted to select a theme that would be enticing and provoking. I decided on Shoshin, a Zen term which translates into English as “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and a lack of preconceptions. In a “beginner’s mind” there are many possibilities, in an “expert’s mind” there are few. If we were to approach things with a beginner’s mind, the opportunities could be limitless. Working with the concept of a beginner’s mind can allow you to think in a fresh, keen and creative way. The Shoshin conference was successful because the “beginner’s mind” concept started the open thinking that helped the department move to change in a positive manner.

In The Republic, Greek philosopher Plato shares a story known as The Allegory of the Cave that illustrates the power of the beginner’s mind. Here’s a much condensed summary of this allegory about prisoners who are bound in chains in a cave. Eventually, one of the prisoners escapes from the cave. He is frightened by the sun because it is so bright and it hurts to look at it. He considers returning to the cave but comes to understand the light keeps him warm and dry, the opposite of the damp darkness of the cave. Other prisoners eventually escape from the cave and return to help those left behind. They help them make the transition to the darkness of the cave to the sunlight outside. But it was the first prisoner who left the cave and dared to approach the sunlight with a beginner’s mind. Fearful at first, he learned to embrace the light which led him out of the cave where he was a prisoner.

Do you think we are stuck in our caves at times? Are we guilty of not looking past the shadows on the wall? Do we draw a sharp line in the sand by saying “we have always done it this way” or “it is my way or the highway?” As a consultant, I hear clients use these phrases all too often. I have to coach them to be receptive to new ideas, to approach change with a beginner’s mind. After all, new ideas are where true growth lies.

I saw a video recently, produced by Dr. Robert Cooper, Jr. entitled Excellence in a Changing World. There are no spoken words but words and thoughts are displayed in a beautiful way on screen with very moving music. I want to share a few lines of the video with you. It is very powerful and might bring to light a new beginning for you.

Your life has value past what the eyes can see.
Never settle for a life that is less than the one you are living.
Never let old habits get in the way of new ideas.
Be an original in a copy cat world.
Live knowing the secret to life is not in your computer,
It is in your heart.
Know you must be the change you want to see in the world.
Know you can’t settle for less.
The leader is you.
The time is now.
If not now, when?

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