Why CMOs (and Organizations) Should Adopt a Beginner's Mindset


Learning is never done. It requires continual curiosity and pushing the bounds of what you know. PHOTO: Ashley Batz

It’s that time of year again, when planning for the New Year is in full tilt. Many organizations use this time to see how the results from this year’s strategies measured up against the goals set back in January.

I’ve written before about the challenges around digital transformation, and how critical it is to understand where you and your organization stand in order to identify the gaps you must bridge in order to move to the next level. 

This same approach applies to learning and development — at the organizational as well as the personal level. 

Practicing What He Preaches

A recent study conducted by The Technical University of Munich in conjunction with SAP asked the question: “Are Employees the Biggest Roadblock to Digital Transformation?” 

It found that only 17 percent of respondents claimed their company had the personnel with the requisite skills to assist in digital transformation. 

So the recent Marketing Week article by Unilever CMO Keith Weed resonated. In it, Weed discussed how he was personally approaching digital literacy, as well as in the broader context of the Unilever organization.

And Weed didn’t sugar coat what he sees as the need for his organization to become much more literate, much more quickly, with digital:

“We have three versions of people. On one side we have the digital natives who have been born and bred in a digital world. On the other side we have people like myself in my 50s who have children in their 20s ….

In the middle we have what I call the ‘lost generation,’ people in their late 30s and early 40s who don’t yet have grown up children who are digital natives and weren’t digital natives themselves. These are the very people who are leading so many of our brands and businesses, and they’re bluffing too much about digital from what they read in the Financial Time or Marketing Week.”

Marketing Week printed another quote from Weed: 

“Weed urged marketers to ensure they are fit to lead by embracing training and shaking off the association that taking part in training is ‘admitting I’m not as good as I probably should be.’”

Weed deserves props for upping Unilever’s commitment to training — in the form of budget and the number of days allocated — and for practicing what he preaches. He took time out this past summer to learn how to code — putting his “money where his mouth was.”

A Time for Reflection

Hearing about Unilever’s digital learning agenda caused me to think about my own path. 

I wrote earlier this year about the imperative for continuous learning as a key component to viability and success with digital marketing — or as Weed says, “marketing in a digital world”. 

With this year winding down I took a quick inventory of what I’ve learned and what I’ve done from a training perspective to further my own digital acumen and proficiency. I didn’t have a formal “plan,” but rather explored where my curiosity took me or where I felt I needed to know more on a given topic. 

It’s been a mix of formal training, industry events, consumption of industry blogs and publications, consistent digital engagement and my own research (largely research into various software providers). And I’ve put the majority of what I’ve learned directly into practice on behalf of my own business as well as that of several client projects. 

What 18 Months of Learning Looks Like

Here’s a recap what I’ve tried, attended, scoped, researched, experimented with and done in the last 18 months:



Martech Software Researched, Scoped, Explored and Reviewed:



Landing Page Software Leadpages, Unbounce, Instapage, Launchrock
Marketing Automation/Email Software Drip, Infusionsoft, Act-On, Hubspot, Marketo, Intercom.io, Ontraport, Mailchimp
Live Chat Tool Drift, Intercom.io, HotJar
Tracking, Reporting, & Measurement Tool Raventools, Social Report, Simply Measured, Moz, Kissmetrics, SEMRush, Spyfu
Social Media Publishing Tool Buffer, Sprout, Hootsuite, CoSchedule
Content Curation Tool Curated, Percolate, Curata, Trap.it, Pearltrees, Waywire, Scoop.it
Ad Serving Platform AdButler, AdRoll, Criteo
Content Distribution Platform Outbrain, Taboola
CRM Systems Saleforce, Pipeliner Sales, Nimble, Sugar, Base, Sage, Zoho, Bullhorn
Google Products Adwords, Webmaster Tools, Tagmaster



  • Regular participation in social networks personally and professionally
  • Began blogging (on LinkedIn and here on CMSWire)
  • Participated in several Tweet Jams

Adopting the Beginner’s Mind

How did this advance my own learning as well as that of my business? 

As someone who learns by doing, the recent training and research helped me meet the strategic and tactical challenges that my client base faces on a daily basis. Expanding my knowledge gave me a broader and more technical understanding of the inner workings of multi-channel integrated digital strategy — and the inter-dependency and interconnectedness this entails — from a strategic and tactical viewpoint.

My appreciation grew for how deeply and quickly marketing as a function is changing, as did my understanding of the drivers and obstacles of that change, and some ideas on how to meet that challenge. One hint: agile: it’s not just for developers anymore.

Remaining up-to-date, in-step and relevant is not easy. It takes time, money, commitment and also a level of comfort with being … uncomfortable. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt out of my element at times with some of the things I took on from a learning perspective. 

But as I’ve evolved as a marketer and as someone who is committed to the digital customer experience path, I believe that when I’m uncomfortable or feeling out of my element, it’s a signal that I could learn something new or try a new approach.

Buddhists call this “don’t know” or “beginner’s” mind. It’s a mindset of not taking for granted what you know and realizing there is always something new to learn.

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel” — Socrates

Learning is never really “done.” It’s the action and practice of continual curiosity and pushing the bounds of what you know. This is the value that education and learning brings. 

How are you attending to your own flame of learning and education? And how do you set an example for your organization?

In this season of strategic planning, assessing and goal setting, I encourage everyone (individuals and organizations) to practice what you preach — take an active role in learning and development.  Your future, and that of your company, depends on it.

Linda Saindon is the founder and principal consultant at Alchemic, where she helps clients achieve better business results by identifying opportunities, strategies and organizational development recommendations that support innovation, digital literacy and digital marketing. Linda is an intrapreneur, marketer, mindfulness practitioner and yoga student who genuinely enjoys helping people and organizations become better and do better so they can reach their full potential.


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