pate emergences and do the learning early before it becomes a critical necessity.
Our moods will be a problem if we do not
learn to recognize them, especially the
unproductive moods, and shift to ones
that are productive for learning.
An essential part of learning is to allow ourselves to be a beginner in the
new domain. That means we come to
the domain knowing nothing or next to
nothing about the domain. Beginner is
the first stage of a progression of skill in a
domain that can take us next to advanced
beginner, competent, proficient, expert,
and master. As we get older, we find that
we are experts at some things—and we
like being an expert. We like when people look up to us and ask us for guidance
and wisdom. But when we come into a
new domain in which we are just a beginner, we cannot expect our expertness
from other domains to help us. In fact,
it is likely to draw us into unproductive
moods such as frustration over not learning fast enough or discouragement that
we are not treated as an expert.
We all marvel at how easy it seems to
be for your young children to be beginners. Perhaps that is because they are
experts at nothing and do not have their
minds clouded with any expectations
about being an expert. They just approach the learning as an opportunity to
play, adventure, and experiment. Older
children often acquire self-assessments
that block them from adventure and
play, whereupon they may have more
So here is the Beginner’s Creed, a
one-page declaration that you can recite
to yourself to help you when you find
yourself in a new domain as a beginner,
whether by your own choice or by circumstance. Make a copy and read it every day
for a week, especially when you are a beginner. Return to it as needed.
1. Denning, P. and Flores, G. Learning to learn. Commun.
ACM 59, 12 (Dec. 2016), 32–36.
2. Flores, G. Learning to Learn and the Navigation of
Moods. Pluralistic Networks Publishing, 2016.
3. Friedman, T. Thank You for Being Late. Farrar, Straus,
and Giroux, 2016.
4. Kelly, K. The Inevitable. Viking, 2016.
Peter J. Denning ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is Distinguished
Professor of Computer Science and Director of the
Cebrowski Institute for information innovation at the
Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, is Editor of
ACM Ubiquity, and is a past president of ACM.
The author’s views expressed here are not necessarily
those of his employer or the U.S. federal government.
Copyright held by author.