The beginner’s mind and marketing

Many years ago, I was overcome with a feeling of professional anxiety during which I was worried I might stop being creative.

The feeling was brief and intense, and the general feeling hung around my psyche for a while — one year.

What exactly was I worrying about? I was concerned that I might suddenly wake up one day and no longer be able to think broadly, creatively, and constructively and that I would lose the facility of “thinking outside the box.”

Throughout my life I’ve enjoyed daydreams, brainstorming about all manner of things, and playful improvisation about whatever I had in mind. And I like being able to do this sort of ideation. This skill has informed my professional career for decades. When I felt this sense of the prospect of loss I immediately began to think about creativity as a true skill and something I need to cultivate in myself.

At that time when I was lost with creative worry my children were young, so I had to devise ways to nourish my creative well that still allowed for me to be very present for them in ways that appear, at least superficially, mundane. Most nights I would prepare dinner for my family, make sure the house was tidy, look after the laundry and so on. None of these tasks seem remotely creative when one is working a lot and when one has little kids. Most people find them to be mere drudgery.

I had an epiphany. I started to think about these tasks as being helpful to my creative mind. Cooking, making vinaigrette for salads, sauteing vegetables, marinating foods for the grill, and more started to feel like creative challenges. Plating foods before serving them offered new palettes for creative expression. Even washing windows and folding laundry seemed like unusual moments during which I might privately brainstorm a creative approach to one business project or another. Before I knew it, what seemed like downtime was greatly restoring my well of creativity.

At about the same time I started to think about the Zen Buddhist principle of shoshin — the beginner’s mind. This concept, from an unexpected source, has become an idea I’ve embraced fully in every aspect of my life.

Shoshin, as it is defined, describes the way a person might maintain themselves in an intellectual state of openness, eagerness or enthusiasm and a lack of preconceptions. As a result of this attitude toward life, this same person experiences the world as a beginner would even when the experiences are routine, familiar, and well-known.

The initial fear of losing my creativity stemmed from a feeling, at first, that I had become an expert and that there might not be room to learn too much more about marketing, communications and branding. What I quickly came to appreciate is that a feeling of expertise can sometimes lead to hubris or closed-mindedness about new ideas.

The concept that I might be a beginner every day even though I have tremendous knowledge allowed me to gain a greater sense of learning for learning’s sake.

It’s true I know a great deal about small business marketing, communications and how to build great brands. Superficially, you can call me an expert. But on a much deeper level think of me as a beginner with a lot of experience going again and again creatively. I’m never bored with my work. I’m never tired of projects or challenges that require creativity. I do hear people talking about how they feel bored at work or bored by work, and I think it might just be they no longer think of themselves as being beginners who still have much to learn.

For small business owners or for people who are deeply involved in nonprofit management, take a moment to recognize your everyday professional expertise and then set that insight aside. What can you do to learn more about your business, audience, organizational voice, and more? Give thought to the moments when you feel your creative mind is unleashed and schedule time get into those moments and go again.

Whether you are tinkering at a workbench, puttering in your garden, running outside or simply making dinner or folding laundry, encourage yourself to allow your mind to wander, to dream a little and give yourself the time, grace and space to think broadly and differently and enjoy the fruits of your never-ending beginner’s mindset.

Rebecca Hoffman is the founder and principal of Good Egg Concepts, a strategic communication and brand marketing consulting practice serving clients across the Chicago area and nationally.

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