"In the Beginner's Mind,
there are many possibilities.
In the Expert's Mind, there are few."
-- Sunryu Suzuki
A Beginner's Mind
"Most great discoveries don't start
with a 'EUREKA!' moment.
They usually happen when somebody
sees something and says,
"Hmmm, that's funny..."
-- Adam Grant
Sometimes all of the information we need has been in front of us all along.
Sometimes we just need to use the Beginner's Eyes to see it.
Sometimes seeing differently is thinking differently.
More than 80 years ago in France, a dog named Robot got loose. And he fell down a hole.
His owner, a teenage boy named Marcel, did what all good dog owners do: he went down after his dog. But he not only found his dog down that hole; he discovered cave paintings that have changed the course of what we now know about our prehistoric ancestors.
Since that September day in 1940, several more caves with thousands of paintings have been discovered in France, Spain and elsewhere. There has been no shortage of experts studying these paintings over the decades. People who are tops in their fields in anthropology, archaeology, sociology and a whole bunch of other "-ologies" plus art historians, mythologists and several other fields have brought their forces to bear. Because of this incredible research, we've learned a tremendous amount about our ancestors -- what they ate, what they wore, how they died, how they made clothes, and the tools they used. Every new astounding advancement in technology has provided new scans, new views of the tiniest of paint strokes and dabs of color. The array of information that has been gathered by experts seems endless.
The most minute details are now observable because of technology. Take, for example, a series of dots, dashes, lines and symbols that appear by a painting of a herd of animals. These dots, dashes and symbols have been analyzed by all of the "-ologies" for decades, because they appear time and again across several paintings. The prevailing opinion has been that these intriguing marks were a rudimentary method of counting, "Hey, I saw this many antelope today." Or, the marks could also represent the very first SportsCenter highlights, "Look at what we hunted!"
Recently, one researcher was up late one night studying images of the cave paintings. I say "up late" because studying cave paintings isn't Ben Bacon's day job; it's his hobby. In fact, Ben Bacon doesn't have a degree in any of the "-ologies." He restores and refinishes furniture in London. But like thousands of others around the world, Ben Bacon has become fascinated by the cave paintings, and he loves learning about them.
One particular night he saw what all of the experts had seen in the painting with the herd of animals. Dots, dashes, lines and symbols. And in that moment, Ben Bacon had a choice. He could've simply read what the prevailing analyses and intelligent guesses were about the dots and dashes and gone about his way.
...Or....he could look at those dots and dashes with a Beginner's Eye; he could look at them with eyes that hadn't drawn conclusions, as if they already knew the answers, but instead wanted to ask better questions.
Ben Bacon asked one of the most magical questions of all: "What if..."
What if, he wondered, this wasn't a cave painting version of Quickbooks for counting what was seen, nor an original SportsCenter highlight of what was already hunted. After all, he surmised, if what you're really preoccupied with is what you're going to eat tomorrow, what good does it do you to know where the animals were yesterday?! Maybe the painting isn't a highlight reel. But what if it's something else entirely?
What if...it's a way to predict where animals are going to be?
What if...it's a calendar?
What if...it's a way of showing when and where animals migrate, mate and give birth?
I don't know, it seems to me that a key to a successful hunt is having a pretty good idea where the animals are and where they're going to be next. That would also give you a little better feeling about your chances of making it through the winter.
Bacon enlisted the help of...guess who...the experts. Here's what I love about true scientists: they love being wrong. Why? Because they get to learn. They get to advance science not by sticking to old claims, but by testing new ones. And test they did. Bacon's hypothesis has been tested and retested. Across thousands of cave paintings. Across hundreds of miles -- across France, across Spain, across other parts of Europe.
The patterns hold up -- not only across miles, but across species: the same markings are found in paintings of herd animals, birds, predators and prey alike. The best guess at this point, according to the paper published by Ben Bacon and two separate universities in the most recent Cambridge Archaeological Journal, is that the marks show an amazingly accurate estimate of lunar cycles. It's a type of calendar. The paintings thereby became a type of scientific white board for planning and logistics: "Hey guys, if we want to eat, we need to figure out where we are moving next...and how soon?"
The information had been there all along. It took a Beginner's Eye to just see it differently. And by seeing differently, Ben Bacon thought differently.
Unintended Positives thinking is based on looking at the exact same information that everyone else has in front of them. But just seeing it in a different way.
How many times in our lives do we leap to conclusions? How many times do we let "the voice of experience" shut down our positivity? How many times do we allow cynicism to tell us, "Oh I know how this is going to turn out and it's not going to be good"?
In our own heads, hypotheses are debated.
But Unintended Positives thinking is based on the power of choosing to look for possibilities.
In the mind of the Cynics, there are few possibilities and they are usually all negative.
In the Beginner's Eyes, in the Unintended Positives Thinkers' minds, there are many possibilities. And they are all on the other side of "What if..."
Sometimes the answer isn't in seeing something new; it's seeing the same thing in a completely new way.
Sometimes the answer isn't an answer at all, but just a better question.
Sometimes seeing differently is thinking differently.