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Recently I’ve been chatting with people about mindset. OK, so that’s not really news, but what is news is who those conversations have been with. The people I’ve been chatting with aren’t clients, not even potential clients. and the conversations are about something fundamental to mindset: what is it? And why is it so popular?
There’s so much focus on mindset these days that one of the givens seems to be that everyone knows what we’re talking about. But when you think about it, is that necessarily true? This blog, is about answering two simple questions. What is mindset, and why is it in vogue right now?
Good and Bad Mindset?
For me the easiest way to think about mindset is to look at the word. Mindset. It’s our minds that do the thinking, so we know we’re talking about how we think. But when people talk mindset – let’s say an athlete who’s mentally tough, or a colleague that does little more than their job – the presumption is mindset can be either good or bad.
The idea that we have a good or bad mindset is a shame. And it’s one of the barriers to my work: the idea that a consultant has shown up to work on mindset means for some that I, their boss, or whoever, thinks there’s something wrong with the way they think. And of course nobody’s thinking that. But that’s the problem of playing in the mindset box.
Carol Dwyeck in her book Mindset does a good job of framing a learning mindset as either growth or fixed. For Dwyeck a growth mindset sees ability as something we develop; and the latter sees ability as either/or: either we can do something or we can’t. That helps, but can still leave some in a place of growth mindset = good; fixed mindset = bad.
But here’s another way to think about it. We already know the mind part in mindset is referring to how we think. But what about the “set” part? The way I think about it is to take it literally. Set, to me, feels permanent. Like concrete when it’s dried. So mindset is about being set in a way of thinking. That differs from a growth or fixed mindset because this isn’t just about learning, it’s about how we see the world. Is our view of the world set or is it flexible?
In some instances a set mindset helps – when I’m inflexible about paying my employees a fair wage for example. In other cases, it hurts – when I believe we’ve always done X this way so we should always do it that way.
So what mindset work does is encourage us to think about the way we think. It doesn’t have a judgement. It’s just asking, is our way of thinking helping or hurting in this situation?
And that takes us to our next question: why is mindset so popular these days?
The Value of Mindset
This section is purely personal and just one point of view. It has to be since it’s my blog. You see I think for a long time we’ve figured out the limits of training and even traditional management consulting. Both of those things are based on the idea of giving people fishes. People struggle in meetings: send them on a better meetings course. A business is underperforming: bring in a consultant to develop a strategy or optimize systems and processes.
Of course there’s a place for those approaches – sometimes a fish is all you need. But other times learning to fish is more useful. Like learning to fish, once we shift a mindset it’s an ability we can keep.
For me, that’s the appeal of mindset work. It allows people to develop new and different ways of thinking. Not better, just different. And different is all you need. Because different allows people to see their challenges from another perspective. And that means new solutions are possible.
So why is mindset all the rage right now? Because in the long term, teaching your people to fish isn’t just a cost-effective thing to do. It’s the kind of thing that grows leaders, and changes businesses.
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What to dive deeper?
Check out The Six Attributes of a Leadership Mindset by Joe Britto
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