“The White Belt” is all about setting aside your previous knowledge and approaching new situations with the mindset of a beginner. To demonstrate the general idea, the writers give the example of a family therapist who is skilled at facilitating constructive communication, but doesn’t assume he has expert knowledge on the unique circumstances of a particular family. The writers suggest learning your second language as the most likely time to run into problems from not maintaining a stance of not knowing.

I experienced this myself when learning C/C++. My first language was Java, which is object-oriented, while C is imperative. One of my biggest stumbling blocks in learning the language was failing to understand that writing classes wasn’t necessary, when I assumed it was from my knowledge of Java. I didn’t have the luxury of sacrificing productivity to spend time improving my skills, as this pattern suggests, since I was in the middle of an accelerated summer course. But I’d certainly have understood more quickly if I’d approached learning the language from the ground up. I will avoid this in the future by trying to consciously set aside my previous programming knowledge when starting a new language.

As this pattern explains, bringing your preconceptions about how things work to a new technology or context actually impedes the learning process, whereas keeping in mind that being competent in one area doesn’t mean you have expert knowledge in a different area will speed up the process. You will be open to new ideas you otherwise might not have considered.

The three side-by-side comparisons of how to generate random numbers in different languages is a good demonstration of this. Reading it for the first time was mind-blowing to me, especially the one-line solution in J. Even though such terse code comes with its own problems, it’s still effective at showing the contrast between different approaches in different languages and the benefits of setting aside the attitude that you’re already an expert. You might overlook the possibility of such a simple solution otherwise.

“The White Belt” reminds me of “Expose Your Ignorance,” because it emphasizes not allowing your fear of appearing ignorant to get in the way of your learning. In fact, the insight from this pattern I liked most was from a quote asking whether the key to a genius’s success is allowing themselves the freedom to look foolish, which we tend to interpret as eccentricity.

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