The Beginner’s Mind

The Beginner’s Mind…
Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism that means the “beginner’s mind” — in other words, shedding all of your preconceived notions about a particular topic and approaching it from a purely open and inquisitive standpoint.

This “beginner’s mind” approach is something that I cling to vehemently as one of the leaders of UpLaunch. Our platform focuses on small business systems and marketing automations, but it’s certainly not unique to our industry — the principle can be applied to any aspect of life.

For our platform, we generally take a simple four step approach to planning a new feature — and like everything we do at UpLaunch, it begins and ends with our customers. Take a quick look into how we do things and think about how you could apply this in your own business, organization, or life.

Step 1: Identify Core Requirements

These core requirements for a new feature are primarily driven by our customers — sometimes they tell us what they need, and other times we already know, but either way it’s all about satisfying a particular use case for the users of our Platform.

These use cases are NEVER written in general terms — we always drill down to the specifics. For instance, we wouldn’t just say that we “need to improve contact segmentation” — that’s a subjective statement that means, well, precisely nothing.

Instead, we would compile a set of scenarios that our customers have told us that they need to satisfy, or that we predict that they would encounter. Once we get the specifics hammered down, only THEN will we zoom out and write up some general specifications about what the feature needs to be.

Step 2: Identify the “Safe” Approach

Unless you’re trying to go to Mars (Hey Elon), revolutionize the way that humans generate electricity (What’s Up Elon), or create unprecedented means of mass transit (Oh Hi Elon)…chances are whatever “brilliant” idea you’re working on isn’t quite revolutionary.

Don’t misunderstand me — I’m not saying it’s not valuable, or that you can’t do it BETTER than someone else, or repurpose it for a new application…I’m just saying that someone’s probably done whatever you’re trying to do in some way, shape or form.

Find it! Dig up whatever is closest to satisfying your use cases from Step 1. The best scenario is that it satisfies ALL of them. See what other people are doing. Get inspired. Figure out what you like and what you don’t like.

Step 3: Shoshin!

Now that you know what’s been done, you’ve also got a good idea what hasn’t been done. Wipe your mental slate clean. Look at the results from Step 2, and ask yourself and your team one simple question:

“How can we do it better?”

After you discuss all of the answers to that one important question, start to aggregate the good parts from each of them and identify your plan of attack. Devote a bit of time to this step, as it’s where your vision will start to truly come to life.

Don’t be afraid to try different approaches here! It’s ok if an idea ends up being horrible. It’s fine if it fails. It’s part of the process. Try things out, see what feels right, see what might make things easier for your customers. Eventually, you’ll settle on the best way to create your new feature — and hopefully, it’ll be better, smoother, and easier to use than whatever’s already out there.

One last note on this step — be prepared for the scenario that nothing you come up with seems to work. Maybe someone’s already delivering your functionality in the most efficient way possible. That’s OK, as long as you don’t let your ego get in the way.

Changing just for the sake of change doesn’t help anyone — if at the end of Step 3, you’re not convinced that any of your approaches are better than what’s out there…just go with the safe approach from Step 2. Your business exists to serve your customers, not yourselves — so whatever is best for your customers, in turn, is best for your business.

Step 4: Circle Back To Step 1

If you do indeed decide that you’ve figured out a new way to approach your problem or feature, circle back to your use cases that you identified in the beginning. That’s why getting the specifics in the first step is so important — you need to have test cases to evaluate the efficacy of your idea.

At UpLaunch, we’ll typically do this in phases — first, we’ll come up with some internal test cases, and if they pass, we’ll hit up some of our trusted customers and have them fire some hypotheticals at us to make sure our ideas don’t suck. Believe me — if you come up with some “great” idea that your customers will hate, you want to find out about that before you dump a month into writing code, creating designs, and implementing it (or whatever the equivalent of that is in your business).

Final Thoughts

It’s pretty simple. Figure out specifically what your customers need, see how other people are handling it, figure out how to do it better, and make sure that your new idea still delivers what your customers need. If you can do all of that with a small investment of resources until the idea is validated, you’ll win every time.

Remember: Innovation is actually iteration in disguise. A Tesla is basically an improved version of a horse, when you really think about it. To improve the status quo, you need to first identify what the status quo is — and then use your team’s ingenuity and infallible devotion to your customers to blow it out of the water.