Open Mindedness

I have no idea what I am doing

I want to give a special thanks to my co-founder Leo who listened to and discussed some of these thoughts with me before I turned them into a blog post.

In the last few months, and particularly the last few weeks, I’ve had some truly fantastic moments. Particularly, I’ve reached some defining milestones with my latest venture, Buffer, and this blog has been doing well too. New doors have opened for me, and it has been great.

Looking back to last October when I started Buffer, even though I had learned a lot from my past startup experiences, I truly didn’t know what I was doing and I approached everything with that mindset. I was out there to learn and I knew that the only way I was going to progress was to adopt a very open mind.

I’m writing this post because I’ve recently strayed away from this mindset, and I’ve realised that I lost out as a result.

When success can lead you down the wrong path

In the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to receive some great press and praise for Buffer. In addition to this, I’ve had some of my blog posts featured in great newsletters and some blogs I truly admire, and I’ve also had the opportunity to speak a few times about how I’ve achieved some success with Buffer.

This form of others directly or indirectly appreciating what I was doing, and a few reaching out to ask me for advice, set me off on a path which I can now say in hindsight is not where I want to be. I love to help others, and I will always do my best to share my own experience, but as soon as I took appreciation as a signal that I knew what I was doing, I had taken a wrong step.

Believing that I knew what I was doing

The key turning point was when I started to believe that I knew what I was doing. I let the comments, the kind congratulations and the small successes affect my mind. I actually thought I knew what I was doing.

As soon as I believed that I knew what I was doing, without realising it the style of my writing and communication in general started to change slightly. I became naturally drawn to instructive comments and advice where I would have previously communicated simply based on my own experiences.

The biggest mistake: I became less open-minded

It was with this new instructive style which I realised I lost my open-mindedness. After a few people asking for my advice, I was starting to treat everything in a way in which I needed to have a definite answer.

That’s when I looked back to the early days of Buffer and this blog. At that time, the only way I was going to get somewhere was to be completely open-minded, take every opportunity to learn and make the most of every conversation. This was how I progressed, and it really worked. It felt amazing.

A new start: a beginner’s mind

So the truth is: I have no idea what I am doing. I am taking a leaf from Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen. I am going to Let go of being an expert:

"We are all experts. Experts in our job, in raising children, in crossing the road, in signing our name. Its difficult to let go of being an expert. Because it means confessing that we really know nothing. What we know belongs to the past. Whereas this moment now is new and offers its unique challenges. If I let go of being an expert, I can listen to others with an open mind. Then I can find that even a beginner has something to teach me.”

The counter point

This is a challenging subject, because I think it is just as easy to be stalled by “I don’t know” as it is to let “I know” cause you to become less open-minded. I now think there is a middle ground I want to strive for, which is having a curious and inquisitive mind whilst still acting when I don’t know what the outcome will be.

Have you ever felt like your knowledge or experience could cause you to stop being open-minded and learning? I’d really love to hear about your experiences on this topic.

Photo credit: Eric Hayes