A highly-educated professor visited a Buddhist Master to learn everything there is to know about the theory and practice of Zen. When he arrived, this well-educated professor was more interested in talking about his own storehouse of knowledge than learning and kept interrupting to insert his own thoughts, opinions, and associations.

During the conversation, the Buddhist Master stopped talking and began to serve tea. He poured until the cup was full… and then kept pouring until it overflowed. “Enough!” the professor shouted. “The cup is overfull, there is no room for more!” “Indeed, I see,” answered the Buddhist Master. “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. If you do not first empty your cup, how will you be able to taste my tea?”


a tea cup on a saucer filled with steaming hot tea


Many of us start our own businesses or take leadership roles in organizations because we have experience and expertise that position us to know best…this drive and confidence is often a great quality. However, we also need to remember the value of discovery, and the benefits of leaving room in our cup to:

• Acquire new knowledge, a deeper understanding and a fresh perspective,
• Relearn something that has been forgotten over time, and
• Interpret and integrate known information in original and more meaningful ways.

Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971), the Zen Monk who founded the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia, observed that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” When embarking on a new venture or just needing to break free from old patterns, Zen Buddhism recommends adopting shoshin, an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. This is an approach Martin Schwartz of the University of Virginia calls productive stupidity. Dr. Schwartz informs his PhD students that before becoming experts in their chosen fields, they must first choose to be ignorant. By setting aside prior knowledge, beliefs, and assumptions, space is created for innovation.



Centuries ago, the English poet John Keats (1795-1825) coined the phrase negative capability to describe the ability of being in doubt without the desperate need to grasp for fact or reason. Unfortunately, we are so accustomed to figuring everything out and getting the answers right, it is difficult to find comfort with the unknown and feel confident while making mistakes.

Rationality, logic, and convergent thinking often serve the purpose of keeping us safe and maintaining status quo, whereas it is through curiosity, imagination, divergent thinking, and mistakes that scientific breakthroughs, artistic masterpieces, personal epiphanies, and innovative business strategies are discovered.

Regardless of what you call it, Beginner’s Mind, Shoshin, Productive Stupidity, or Negative Capability – it is up to each of us to make room in our own cup.

The holidays are often a reflective time as we look back on the last 12-months and set our sights on accomplishments for the New Year.

Below are a few questions to help you discover new ways to fill your cup.

1. How does (or how could) a sense of discovery show up for you on a day-to-day basis?
2. Name three discoveries or lessons learned in the last year?
3. What are you curious to discover in the new year?
4. What do you want others to discover about you?
5. If you had the opportunity to present a new discovery—what would it be and to whom would you present it?

The Entrepreneur’s Alphabet of Values: D is for Discovery

by: Stacey Zackin, PhD, MSW, PCC (Manager, WORK_SPACE)