When working in complex spaces like racial justice, the tried-and-true ‘beginner’s mind’ framework can be naive and harmful. What if we combined it with another approach?
Editor’s Note: Sue-Jean Sung wrote this piece in 2019 after returning from a visit to Montgomery, Alabama. We are posting it a year later, acknowledging the many significant events that have taken place in the interim related to racial injustice in the US. Sue-Jean’s reflections do not specifically address the circumstances of 2020, but they are resonant in this moment, as they were when she first chronicled them.
When I started at IDEO in 2018, I heard a lot about an approach called “beginner’s mind.” Originally inspired by a Zen Buddhist principle, beginner’s mind is about tackling design challenges with curiosity and optimism and without judgment. Applying a beginner’s mind has led to innovative solutions and initiatives over the years: high school principals were individually paired with a student for a day to understand the student experience instead of blindly making assumptions about what students need. This led to the creation of the Shadow a Student Challenge, a scaled version of the initial effort that empowers principals to see their schools through students’ eyes and design ways to improve the school experience. Over 6,000 educators signed up to participate between 2016 and 2019. …