How expertise hurts your creativity and the ancient Zen Buddhist mindset that changes it

In this issue: expertise and the beginner's mind, perfecting in public, defining vague words, and how failures create the path to where we want to go


The words in this visual are a reframing of a famous quote from Zen Buddhist monk, Shunryu Suzuki, from the book considered to be one of the most influential texts on Zen in the west: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

The book captures a lifetime of Suzuki’s teishos (Zen talks), but the idea of shoshin ((初心 - “beginner’s mind”) most deeply stood out to me.

The secret sauce to solving difficult problems is mixing the efficiency of the expert with the openness of a beginners mind.

To become an expert, you zoom in deeper and deeper into a singular domain.

• The more you practice, the more efficient you get.
• As you specialize and that efficiency improves, your focus gets narrower.
• Areas outside your expertise blur, and you take mental shortcuts to get faster at diagnosing problems

But this comes with a cost. As you build more efficiency in your expertise, you sacrifice the creative ability to consider a problem without assumptions.

On the other hand, a beginner’s mind is like when you eat something for the first time.

Imagine that first bite.
Its taste.
Its texture.
Its aroma.
You're fully immersed in each moment of that experience.

Having a beginner's mind is about sustaining that state of full immersion to examine a problem as if you’re seeing it again for the first time.

Not necessarily to reinvent the wheel…but to consider if a wheel is even necessary this time.

Read my full post here (which later inspired Sahil Bloom to follow up with another post on Shoshin)


If you’ve been a long time subscriber, you may have suspected my visual on Shoshin was familiar…

…and you’d be right!

Once you understand how the conceptual glue holds a visual metaphor together, you can apply it to connect a completely different idea.

It’s one of my favorite ways to iterate.

And if you’re a recovering perfectionist like me, knowing the work you create are all works in progress is liberating.

You can think of these iterations as “perfecting in public.”


The definition of integrity.

One of my favorite things to journal on is defining what a word means to me.

I started doing this after studying for the GRE (a test students have to take in the states to go to graduate school).

It made me realize there were lots of words I knew how to use in a sentence, but could only explain vaguely.

For example, take a simple word like “love”.

If you’ve ever read The Five Love Languages, then you know people have different (often subconscious) ways they define love.

And if you define what love means to you and see how it aligns with your partner’s definition, it’s pretty helpful to communicate more effectively in your relationship.

In the same vein, I’ve found clarifying how you understand other vague words (like integrity) helps align a deeper relationship with yourself.

I’m curious, is your definition of integrity the same or different?


Stumbling blocks can become stepping stones.

Inspired by my friend, Corey Wilks (who messaged me curious to see how I would visually interpret this idea).

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