I was thinking about my 5-year-old niece preparing for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover when I read this week’s New Yorker Magazine.

In it Larissa MacFarquhar does a profile on Paul Krugman the op-ed columnist for the New York Times. 

One of the many things Mr. Krugman says is: There was an intensity of focus that I had when I was 26 that I won’t be able to recapture at 56. You develop your habits of mind, and to a point that’s a good thing, because you learn ways to work, but it does mean that you’re less likely to come up with something really innovative.

My niece has this intensity of focus. She is working hard at understanding an important Jewish ritual, the asking of the four questions at the Passover Seder.

Traditionally the youngest child at the Seder table asks these questions and it is these questions that prompt the telling of the Passover story. In Hebrew they are Mah Nishtana meaning:

  • Why Is It Different?
  • What Is Different?
  • How Is It Different?

New Yorker CoverKrugman continues: When I was younger when I figured something out there was this sense of the heavens parting and the choirs singing that I don’t get now. And that’s life.

My niece has what Buddhism calls Beginners Mind. She has an attitude of openness, of eagerness, and a lack of preconception. When she figures something out the heavens part.

This is why the youngest asks the questions of the Parent during a holiday that is over 2000 years old.

What if organizations – who are clamoring for innovation – embraced this tradition? What if C-level executives allowed their most junior staff to openly ask questions?

Ma Nishtana

  • Why are we different?
  • Why do we do things this way? Why not that way?
  • What makes us different?
  • How are we different? Do our customers know about this difference?

I watch my niece and I think: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few. Paul Krugman understands this. What about you?