Think Like a Beginner (Not an Expert)

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“From very early on in Amazon’s life, we knew we wanted to create a culture of builders – people who are curious, explorers. They like to invent,” Bezos writes. “Even when they’re experts, they are ‘fresh’ with a beginner’s mind. They see the way we do things as just the way we do things now.”

Source: CNBC

The only benefit of being called an “expert” in an area is praise from others and a (false) sense of security. You may legitimately be an expert, but seeing yourself as an expert or wishing to be seen as an expert can hurt your progress. Here are two reasons why choosing a beginner’s mindset is superior.

Learning: Experts may depend on their prior knowledge or accomplishments. Beginners are always open and eager to learn.

My next book (coming later this year) presents a different strategy than Mini Habits for building habits. It incorporates several new concepts that I’ve learned since writing Mini Habits (and my other two books based on it).

I’m as excited for my next book as I was for Mini Habits (which is to say, I’m very very excited). But in order for me to explore new ground, I’ve had to move past the idea that I’m an “expert” in the field because of the success of my books. Admittedly, my books’ success negatively affected my learning for a time, but I’ve learned from that mistake. I’m a beginner again.

Beginners have the greatest capacity for learning, as their minds are clear from ego-clouds and they are most willing to consider new ideas. Experts appear to be above the need to learn more, since they already know so much, but if they are to continue as experts, they need to continue to learn at least as much as a beginner does, if not more. That’s why a beginner’s mindset is so useful—it gives you the best perspective for learning new things, whether you’re a beginner or an expert.

Risk: Experts have more incentive to protect their reputation and play it safe. Beginners can afford to take risks that may revolutionize an industry.

What if my new book is terrible? That would hurt. If I wrote another mini habits book, that’d be a safe win for me and readers and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it wouldn’t carve out new territory. It has less upside than the book I’m writing, which could change habit formation again!

The reason Amazon has continued to defy odds and innovate like a young, agile start-up is explained by Bezos’ quote above about having a beginner’s mind. The major risk to large corporations has always been the agility, ingenuity, and risk-taking ability of smaller players that disrupt entire industries. That’s how a tiny company called Netflix overtook Blockbuster in the movie business, as one example.

The larger your corporation or reputation as an expert, the more you risk losing by exploring new territory. But the upside of innovation stays high, regardless of your current position.

This is not to say that taking risks is always the right choice—some risks are better than others! But I do believe that real progress in terms of ideas and strategies requires risking unknown waters. A common thread of failed companies is failure to innovate, while successful companies tend to innovate (an inherently risky thing) often.

Consider Nintendo. The company famous for making Mario has been around since 1889. They have a history of trying new things. Nintendo has been “a taxi company; a short stay hotel chain- yes, that means exactly what you think it does; an instant rice food company; Chiritorie vacuum cleaners; and toy making, among others.” (Gizmodo)

And even in the video game space, where they are most known, they came out with the Wii console in 2006. I’ve followed the gaming industry for my whole life, and the Wii was the riskiest move I’ve ever seen from a major console maker. Their peers, Sony and Microsoft, continued to make standard graphical and power enhancements for new generation consoles, but Nintendo changed the way games were played with the Wii. They did so at a cost, as the Wii was much less powerful and had worse graphics than the competition. It was a huge risk.

I vividly remember the media’s response to the Wii—some thought it was revolutionary, others thought it was a gimmick that might sink Nintendo, and others were somewhere in between. Many gamers derided the poor graphics before and after launch, but in the end, the Wii was the best-selling console in that generation (and 5th best all time). The Wii revitalized Nintendo, which had been struggling.


While many aspire to become experts or among the best in various areas, it always serves us best to think like beginners. In an odd twist, it’s those who see themselves as beginners who make the most progress. Beginners have the humility to learn and a healthy appetite for risk-taking—a combination that produces top-class companies, impactful innovations, and well, experts.

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