Why Being An Eternal Newbie Leads To Awesome Work

Set yourself in beginner mode. Develop a beginner’s mind. Our tools are constantly changing, so we need to get real good at learning.

Why Being An Eternal Newbie Leads To Awesome Work

“You will be newbie forever,” declared Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly. “Get good at the beginner mode, learning new programs, asking dumb questions, making stupid mistakes, soliciting help, and helping others with what you learn (the best way to learn yourself).”


Why are we eternally newbies? Because, as Kelly observes, the tools that we are using are constantly changing. Flux is life, Heraclitus observed 2,500 years ago–and we ran a cover story about it last year.

The lesson, Kelly impels us to learn, is that we need to become fluent in the flux: that we need to get comfortable with constantly having to learn new tools, since the ones we’re using now will soon be obsolete.

Echoing the language of high velocity management, Kelly helps us to see why:

Often learning a new tool requires unlearning the old one. The habits of using a land line phone don’t work in email or cell phone. The habits of email don’t work in Twitter. The habits of Twitter won’t work in what is next.

What we need, then, is what Ideo CEO Tim Brown would call beginner’s mind–that while you might have accumulated deep expertise of an antifragile technology–empathy, management, communication–you’ll still have to arrive fresh faced with the new medium by which people engage with one another.

This is scary. The bottom of the learning curve for any new skill is going to incur a lot of awkwardness. So if you’re the kind of person who has the other side of a sandwich fall out when you bite into it, you’ll have major compassion for the beginner steps of Codecademy, the quaking can-I? of your first Skillshare, the harrowing trial of a novice-to-knowledgable boot camp.

What we need, then, are meta-skills: If we can make our mornings better by making decisions about how we make decisions, we can make skill acquisition better by getting skilled at acquiring skills. Teachers like Tim Ferriss have figured these things out.


But even so, doing awesome work means constantly being a newbie. Constantly being vulnerable, as a psychologist might say. And constantly becoming unstoppable.

Hat tip: The Technium

[Image: Flickr user Kevin Cortopassi]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.