Beginner’s Mind, Dumb Luck & Agility

Even mindful software developers become jaded and closed-minded.

We sink into complacency. We find ourselves spinning in the tire tracks of familiarity and comfort. We tell our business sponsors, “That’s just the way we do it”. We harbor habits-of-mind and insecurities that we hold onto because of ease and familiarity.

Beginner’s Mind, or Shoshin, means cultivating an attitude of openness and eagerness. It means establishing an innocence of preconceptions in one’s approach to something.

Beginner’s mind is the mind of child; full of curiosity, wonder, and amazement.

Can we approach our day-to-day tasks in such a way? Can we look at all of the aspects of our professional lives with this mind — open to see what there is to see?

We can. But it requires sustained practice, patience, and steady vigilance.

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki says,

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.

Beginner’s Mind and Dumb Luck are two sides of a coin — a coin that every developer needs nestled in his pocket protector. Beginner’s Mind is a mind that’s not already made up. It’s a mind in investigation mode — curious and open to whatever happens.

A Beginner’s Mind is ready to embrace Dumb Luck.

Friends, and master potters, Randy Johnston and Jan McKeachie-Johnston have a term for Dumb Luck that I prefer, calling it The Nourishable Accident. Working with a pliable material like clay, potters have to relax their expectations. Randy and Jan are forever mindful of opportunities in accidents. That is what makes their work sought after.

We know that agile teams embrace change. As practical agilists, perhaps our mantra should be to

Mine every change for its dumb luck.

That is, to see change as a child would: with Beginner’s mind.

Go now grasshopper. Bound off to Iteration Planning with Beginner’s Mind:

  • Recognize Change as Opportunity
  • Nourish the Accident
  • Mine the Dumb Luck

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