For a brief, fabulous, joint-punishing time, I was a triathlete. Swim-Bike-Run in that order. This sport is kind of insane and making it even more so was the fact that when I began, I did not know how to swim. Gotta swim before you can do the rest. So at age 40 I learned and I competed in my first race. I bought a tee-shirt at the event and it said this: “When Was The Last Time You Did Something For The First Time?”

Over the next three years and 12 races, I had a lot of firsts. Whenever competing in an event for the first time, my goal tended to be “finish within the course time limits” (or at times, “survive” like the day the waves seemed 1,000 feet high). This beginner’s mind approach made the experience fun and exciting and growth happened for me in many ways.

Then I entered some races for the second or third time and my mindset shifted to more of the critical “old pro” thinking. Instead of excitement and discovery, I became critical of a slightly slower run or technical errors in shifting gears on the bike. Or that memorable day when I couldn’t get out of my wetsuit and looked like a stork (there’s a picture but you’ll have to trust me on this one).

There’s a metaphor for managers here. “Beginner’s Mind” stimulates creativity, excitement, and commitment. “Old Pro” syndrome stifles it. Managers often take this stifling approach – the boss knows how to do “it” and no one else can do it just right or as fast. Instead of galvanizing people to go get the results needed, managers often nit pick along the way, or insist it be done their way, or get in the way (micromanage). The effect is this: People stop bringing that enthusiasm and creativity. They stop taking risks that could have big benefits for the organization. They sometimes stop thinking for themselves and just keep doing what’s always been done. There is a better way!

I have this question for managers: When was the last time YOU did something for the first time? Or let someone else in your group do something new? Perhaps a shift in thinking is in order, even if it’s outside your comfort zone and feels a little scary. Those are the experiences that create learning and growth. Like surviving the 1,000 foot waves (ok, they weren’t that big but I was scared) and crossing that finish line. What an accomplishment! In the end it didn’t matter that it was a little messy along the way.