Shrinking the fixed mindset

There has been a lot written about having a fixed vs. growth mindset. Satya Nadella spoke about having to shift from a ‘know it all’ to a ‘learn it all’ culture as part of the transformation of Microsoft when he took over as CEO. This isn’t uncommon in large organisations where the hierarchy template sets an expectation that the higher up the ranks you go the more you will know.

This is nearly always a myth and there is plenty of evidence to support pushing decision making closest to those with the knowledge or the lowest possible point in the organisation possible. Knowing this is a good thing and knowing what you can do about it are two different things.

In response to publishing this post on teaching innovation, there have been some who have identified they may have a fixed mindset. As with all change, this is a great first place to be – knowing that you’re thinking in one way, and there is an alternative possibility is an awareness that not everyone has.

What happens next is determined by the individual. Knowing that something could change doesn’t always lead to action being taken. There needs to be a desire to do something before that action is going to follow.

Assuming that awareness and desire are now there, here are some quick tips on starting to develop the muscle memory needed for growth rather than a fixed mindset.

  • When you’re faced with a choice with low consequences then let someone else decide for you. For example, what to eat (takeaway menu only in these COVID-19 times!) then don’t express a preference but let someone else pick for you. Be comfortable with not having to make the decision.
  • Read something that you wouldn’t normally pick. Recommendation engines are great for finding us things we’d like but they don’t challenge our thinking. Take a recommendation of something to read (blog post, book, newspaper…) that wouldn’t normally appeal. Be intentional and find something that it can teach you. If reading isn’t your thinking then start by watching something (TED, YouTube, etc. will make plenty of options available).
  • Follow someone you disagree with. Any social media platform will become an echo chamber over time but you can still work at keeping it more diverse than may normally be the case. Find someone who has an opinion that is different to yours and see what they say. As with reading something new, force yourself to find something worth considering in what they say.
  • Ask good questions and don’t be lazy with autocomplete. There is a risk of creating confirmation bias – if you ask the search engine for evidence that having a beard makes you more intelligent then you’ll find evidence to support that view. If you ask a more open question – for example, what facial features show intelligence – you’re likely to get a more diverse body of evidence. Letting the autocomplete finish your question saves time but reduces the opportunity for you to learn.

The journey you’re starting to go on is one where you become comfortable with not knowing, but uncomfortable with not finding out.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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