The Perpetual Rookie Mindset


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“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
― Albert Einstein

Liz Wiseman is the author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work and she wants to change the way we view people who are new to their role. “My hope is that we begin to see the term rookie as a badge of honor, rather than a burden.”

Wiseman says that the best performers, the ones with true imagination and innovation mindsets, maintain a rookie mindset throughout their careers. Peter Drucker, one of the most revered management minds in the world, rejected the title “guru,” saying that it was only used so much “because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into headlines.” Colleagues said about him that one of his most important attributes was an insatiable curiosity about the world around him. Wiseman says that curiosity is one of the hallmarks of a perpetual rookie mindset.

She writes, “Instead of clinging to a false sense of mastery, they live and work perpetually on the steep side of the learning curve. These leaders aren’t just rookies by circumstance; they are rookies by choice and through deliberate practice. It is a choice that is available to each of us.” Here are her keys to a deliberate rookie mindset.

  • Curiosity: I love Wiseman’s definition of this trait. “Curiosity grows from a deep-seated belief that what you don’t know is more interesting than what you do know.” She says that true curiosity oriented outward, focused on other people, and interested in others’ ideas and concerns. There are two kinds of curiosity: specific, aimed at digging deeper into a subject that interest you, and diversive, which leads you to explore a lot of sources that challenge you. This kind of curiosity encourages new insights and links to ideas that might not have been connected before.
  • Humility: Even when they’ve achieved mastery, perpetual rookies manage to remember that they don’t know everything; in fact, they don‘t know what they might not know. Wiseman writes, “When we recognize our own limitations, we seek guidance and remain open to correction.” Veterans run the risk of hubris (Wiseman calls it the “common cold of the smart and successful”) which can be deadly to new ideas and innovation. Successful and smart people who have the courage to admit that they don’t know something can transform a team – even a whole company. Too often, though, they feel compelled to bluff their way through a problem rather than open themselves up to learning instead of teaching.
  • Playfulness: Rookies bring playfulness into everything they do, because they consider their work to be another form of play. Wiseman writes that several workplace studies indicate that “that humor strengthens relationships, reduces stress, and increases empathy.” Fun makes time go faster and keeps people more engaged on difficult tasks.
  • Being Deliberate: Wiseman writes that rookies, while having fun, are also deliberate and mindful about what they’re trying to accomplish. Part of this deli\berate mindset is not jumping to obvious conclusions. Taking time to research, think more deeply about a problem, even sleep on it, after you think you have an answer allows you to, as Wiseman writes, “clear the cache” so you’re able to come to a conclusion based on what’s in front of you rather than what you already knew.

The art of maintaining a rookie mindset is knowing when to toggle back to a veteran mindset when it’s needed. Veterans who know how to access their rookie smarts become more innovative and more collaborative at the beginning of projects. But they know how to switch back on their deep experience, authority and confidence when it comes to managing a project.

Do you have the courage to think like a rookie and manage like a veteran?  Leave a comment and let me know.

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