Weird ways of working, car indicators, and shoshin.

Have you noticed how weird you think things are when you start in a new organisation?

But then things slowly become normal, even though the ways of doing things don’t change?

For example, I bought a new car at the start of this year. In the first few weeks of driving I noticed that the indicators were weird; they made a loud clicking noise from the dash. Loud enough for passengers to hear (and comment on). But soon I stopped noticing them; my weird indicators had become normal. Last weekend I hired a car in Canberra for the weekend. The indicators were so quiet. Weird!

This concept is known in Zen Buddhism as Shoshin. From Wikipedia:

Shoshin (初心, also pronounced nyuanshin) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning Beginner’s Mind. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

This is a pretty powerful thing to have, but after starting in an organisation it’s also pretty easy to lose it. That’s why things no longer seem weird even though they haven’t changed.

As a new starter, make sure that you jot down all the weird things from day one, so that you can remember them. You can then organise a meeting with your manager a few weeks (or months if that’s more comfortable) and discuss these things. You should frame them in a positive way, that way you won’t come across as criticising things.

As a manager, you can make sure you capture all this powerful information by organising regular but succinct one-on-one meetings with your new starters and asking them what they think is weird and how things could be done better. Because It’s going to get harder to capture this information as your new starter slowly loses their shoshin and begins thinking of things as normal.

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is an Excellence Wrangler for Automattic.