Expertise Is Your Enemy & Shoshin, Your Savior
Become a child that discovers everything for the first time.
Dear Letter Opener,
We’ve all been lied to. Focusing on ONE THING and becoming experts at it has its downsides. Being unbeatable in a particular skill or field is directly proportional to us dismissing new information that contradicts what we’ve learnt previously. We no longer have Shoshin (which is key to becoming an expert).
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The curse of being an expert is confirmation bias i.e. the tendency of individuals to selectively seek, interpret, or favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or preconceived notions while ignoring or downplaying information that contradicts them.
This bias can be so strong that if you’ve spent upwards of 15 years in your field, you’re probably going like “Nah, that’s wrong! I don’t do that!” after reading that statement. If so, then this newsletter is definitely for you.
You’re an emulation of who you’ve learnt from—your parent, your mentor, your boss, or even books. Sometimes, you’re a culmination of all them put together. You’ve put in the effort to extract every single bit of information that they were capable of providing. For over half a decade, you were the sponge that absorbed everything around you that would help you advance in your field. As Russell Brunson describes in his book Expert Secrets, “The fastest way to turn your spark into a fire is to get around others who are on fire already.” And you’ve been on fire for a very long time.
Once you’re past that phase, and are putting your learnings into actionable results, finding success while you’re doing it, you’re an expert. And the moment that happens, you’ve lost the one thing that got you there.
Experts are made in concise steps which often need to be completed in that order, except for one step—learning. Learning is the one thing that’s constant in the pursuit of excellence.
Even if you’ve met hundreds of thousands of people in your life, there’s also going to be that one person who you’re going to learn just that extra bit from. And there’s no way you’ll be able to do that without keeping an open mindset, i.e. Shoshin.
I’m paraphrasing James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits here and it goes something like this—The issue is that as an expert, you actually need to be more attentive, not less. Because when you're already familiar with 98 percent of the information on a topic, it's essential to listen carefully in order to catch the remaining 2 percent.
Read that again. It’s a powerful statement.
So, what exactly is Shoshin? It’s a concept from Zen Buddhism that translates to beginner’s mind. And this story makes it self-explanatory.
Hiroshi, a renowned master potter was known far and wide for his exceptional craftsmanship and his ability to create intricate pottery pieces that captivated the hearts of those who beheld them.
Despite his esteemed reputation, Hiroshi carried a unique philosophy. He believed that no matter how accomplished he became as a potter, there was always room to learn, explore, and discover something new.
One day, a young and ambitious apprentice named Kaori arrived at Hiroshi's pottery studio. Kaori had heard tales of Hiroshi's expertise and sought to learn from the master himself. Eager to impress Hiroshi, Kaori showcased her existing pottery skills, displaying precision and technique that surpassed her years of experience.
Impressed, Hiroshi acknowledged Kaori's talent but gently urged her to embrace Shoshin. He explained that true growth and creativity lie beyond the boundaries of expertise. Intrigued, Kaori decided to open her mind to this philosophy.
Under Hiroshi's guidance, Kaori embarked on a transformative journey. Instead of relying solely on her learned techniques, she began observing the world around her with fresh eyes. She would sit amidst nature, watching the gentle dance of leaves in the wind, listening to the soothing melodies of birds, and observing the subtle hues of the changing seasons.
Intrigued by the delicate interplay between nature and art, Kaori experimented with new clay compositions, unconventional glazing techniques, and innovative forms. She allowed herself to make mistakes, embracing them as stepping stones on her path to growth.
As Kaori delved deeper into the realm of Shoshin, her pottery pieces transformed. They carried an air of enchantment, a unique essence that breathed life into her creations. The villagers marveled at her newfound talent and the sense of wonder her pieces evoked.
No matter how skilled or knowledgeable we become, approaching each endeavor with a humble, open mind can unlock unexplored realms of creativity, innovation, and endless growth.
How Can You Do It Too?
Be the sponge. We’re often excited when we’re in a gathering that discusses a topic that we’re experts at. The need to contribute far surpasses the need to listen. There’s a major drawback when you start speaking and that’s other’s willingness to share. They become the sponge and you, the water. Almost always, be the sponge.
Be interested. Ask questions, probe further, investigate as much as you can. Your job as an expert is to extract, not add. There’s no one way of learning and there’s far more than one source of knowledge. Designations, ranks, experience are hindrances in your pursuit of knowledge. Look beyond that and learn as a nobody.
Be an idiot. You were one when you first started out in hopes of reaching a phase where you consider yourself not to be. In the larger scheme of things, you’re a nobody that merely knows 1-5% of all knowledge on a subject. Be self-aware and assume that you’re merely an idiot in a gathering full of other idiots. The moment you position yourself or someone else as someone who knows more than you, you’re in trouble. You’re not superior. As a matter of fact, no one is.
Shoshin everybody. There’s a liberating feeling in beginning again.