Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Where does the naive inquirer come from?

It is good for us to regularly 'forget' our conditioning, and to be open to new ideas. While it is exhausting if we have to do this too often or for too long, regular learning or stretching of our conditioning helps us to keep supple in our thinking, and enables us to reassess our mental models. This type of openness - the "putting aside preconceptions and suspending beliefs and opinions" is known as a beginner's mind (Daft, 2008, p. 140). 

The idea of a 'beginner’s mind' - or 'shoshin' - is a Zen Buddhist construct, allowing us the “inclination to periodically question and reassess deeply held theories, archetypes, and conventions to devise new and fundamentally innovative solutions" (Finzi et al., 2019). Those with beginners minds are open, lack preconceptions, are eager to learn - behaving as a keen beginner would. A child-like approach, perhaps.

So how does this idea intersect with the concept of the naive inquirer?  The parallels can be seen in an early definition; that a "naive enquirer is someone who sees the world as a benign place which is full of diverse treasures to be revealed to [them]" (Good, 1986, p. 7), and who "asks simple, basic naive questions to uncover 'taken-for-granted' assumptions and reveal new/different perspectives" (Taket & White, 2000, p. 166). These too have elements of a child-like approach to the new.

And when did the naive inquirer model arise? Well, despite much reading and digging, I have been unable to find where this construct originally became 'a thing'. The earliest I have found thus far, where it is mentioned - I think - in a way aligned its present use, is as follows:

Benjamin "Franklin cannot be understood [as] a naive inquirer tied to narrow utilitarian pursuits, in the spirit of Max Weber's caricature of him" (Koch, 1961, p. 316).

However, the Parsons translation of Max Weber's essay (1904/1958) which Koch (1961; Klassen, 1962) refers to, The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, does not clarify the naive inquirer construct. Ah well. I found some earlier mentions (Hurley, 1945; Wyatt, 1928), but they appear not to have been used as a deliberate model. 

I will close with how Meaden and Fox (2015, p. 57) define the naive inquirer:

It "allows the professional to suspend judgements about what [our client] is saying; to actually listen to [them] and gain an understanding about what is happening for [them]; explore what they have already attempted in order to resolve the difficulty and explore where they would prefer to be. There is also an assumption that [they] can identify answers and solutions to their own difficulty.

And I will keep looking for the birth of the concept. 



  • Argyris, C. (2000). Flawed Advice and the Management Trap: How managers can know when they are getting good advice and when they are not. Oxford University Press.
  • Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: A revolutionary approach to man's understanding of himself (7th reprinting, 1978). Ballantine Books. 
  • Daft, R. L. (2008). The Leadership Experience (4th ed.). Thomson-South Western.
  • Fast Company. (04 October 2004). A Beginner’s Mind.
  • DePaul, M. R. (1993). Balance and refinement: Beyond coherence methods of moral inquiry. Routledge.
  • Finzi, B., Lipton, M., Firth, V. (04 February 2019). A beginner’s mindset.
  • Good, M. (1986). The Playback Conductor Or How Many Arrows will I Need? [Psychodrama certification thesis: Centre for Playback Theatre].
  • Hurley, T. J. (1945). When is a Judgment a Lien?. Indiana Law Journal, 20(4), 293-301.
  • Klassen, F. (1962). Persistence and Change in Eighteenth Century Colonial Education. History of Education Quarterly, 2(2), 83-99.
  • Koch, A. (1961). Pragmatic wisdom and the American Enlightenment. The William and Mary Quarterly: A Magazine of Early American History, 18(3), 314-329.
  • Kuhn, T. S. (1967). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1st ed. 5th printing). The University of Chicago Press.  (Original work published 1962). 
  • Taket, A., & White, L. (2000). Chapter 8: Pluralism in the facilitation process. In Partnership & participation: Decision-making in the Multiagency Setting (pp. 145-182). John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
  • Weber, M. (1904/1958). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (trans. T. Parsons 1930/1958). Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  • Wyatt, H. G. (1928). The Gestalt enigma. Psychological Review, 35(4), 298-310.

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