Remain A Novice

A quick note on the importance of novices

Why novices are important

A novice is someone who has little to no experience in a given domain. We see them everywhere. You were one at one point, and so was I. In many ways I still am, and plan to be.

I remember my early days, when it was both terrifying (I didn't seem to know anything in comparison to everyone else in the room) and thrilling (there was so much to learn every day). While I certainly gained a lot from those more experienced than I, I think there was a lot I provided, too. I asked dumb questions. And I didn't have the "why" baggage that prevented me from asking them.

It's important to foster an environment that continually validates our assumptions. Environments change so fast and we may not realize it without a prompt to look. Simply put, we need a cue to examine foundational assumptions. Just as a novice comes without baggage, when we engage with one, they force us to drop our baggage too.

What does a novice look like?

Ok, great. So you need a novice, but what does a good one look like?

First, they're inquisitive, and sometimes their questions are dumb (mine were, and probably still are). The act of asking a question is the value.

Second, they're excited. They want to know more every day, and they're not satisfied with surface answers. They scratch past the surface, find the gold.

Third, they see a problem in simpler terms than we do, but they're not arrogant about asking. They don't start from a position of superiority, but rather from a place of humbleness. They assume there's good reason, but they ask so they understand.

What to avoid in a Novice

The Dunning Kruger effect. Watch out for people that believe they move out of being a novice quickly. They typically do so with indigence. This occurs when the domain is bigger than the novice realizes, or cares to know. Masters are not quickly made - Masters know this.

Your own impatience. As former novices in any one domain, we can often forget what it was like to be one. Notices need time to grow, and understanding how you can help them do that is a value add to a newbie's desire to grow.

What should you do?

Try something new! Meet people and ask questions. Learn how to be vulnerable and be comfortable getting better.

Teach something you know. Teaching a novice often takes our own knowledge and skill to another level of refinement. Teaching forces us to look at the basics again, in a new context. We can’t teach a novice to move forward without first knowing the basics (all the secrets are there).

When the time is right, being a mentor is a great way to help others grow from novice to advanced beginner, to competent, to proficient, to expert. Most experts have had at least one mentor in their lives, if not several. Talk about crowdsourcing!