The Two Mindsets

Almost everyone I speak with, be it colleagues, business leaders or friends sense the heavy undercurrent of change that is hitting everyone and everywhere. While this isn’t anything new, the sense is that the pressure is mounting and we are seeing more and more companies scramble for solutions to the vast disruption that is hitting their respective industries. From public to private, large or small organizations, everyone is faced with a similar dilemma: “We know we must change, but how can we successfully do so while running the business in today’s reality?”

I’ve followed the work of John Kotter, whose latest book Accelerate, advocates that companies must operate under two different “operating systems”. One to run the daily business, another to innovate and explore the next set of business models. While Kotter provides some great evidence of how this organizational and networked model has worked in getting companies to look beyond the present, my sense is that the topic spans much deeper than organizational design and right into how individuals are reacting to working within a system.

As Gary Hamel once said, “You can’t build an adaptable organization without adaptable people- and individuals change only when they have to, or when they want to”. At the end of the day it always comes down to the individual. Do they want to change? Why change? Why now? What’s in it for me?
With such diversity and unique individual desires, how does an organization cater to individual needs and desires so that it starts operating as 800 Gazelles as opposed to an 800-Pound Gorilla?

headsOne of the concepts I’ve always subscribed to at an individual level is that it is important for every individual to balance two mindsets. The first mindset, a heads-down mindset is likely all too familiar to most of us. It is the one where we focus on a task, delivering output, meeting deadlines. Many companies and individuals are reporting that a heads-down mindset is becoming more prominent then ever as companies feel increased market pressure and are in turn pushing it downward on their employees who are scrambling to deliver more and faster with less resources.

The second mindset is one most of us often neglect. A heads-up mindset is exactly what it sounds like. It is about thinking, zooming-out and considering different possibilities. This mindset is often challenged with rationale such as no time, no motivation and worst of all a “not my job” line of thinking. If you think about, it is easy to understand why one mindset dominates while the other struggles. The modern organization is designed for efficiency and scale. There are very few people who are paid to “think” or reflect.  We are paid to deliver and we are measured on what we deliver, not the quantity or quality of ideas we have.

In a way, we are simply responding to the workplace. Although there are some great companies that encourage their employees to keep dual mindsets, these are still in the minority. The way the corporate sector values creativity today is still a long way from where it needs to be.
We need a creative culture, not only to inspire us and give us fortitude especially in volatile times, but we need to each have a unique blend of talents and special dynamic values within our workforce.
As individuals though, we have a choice. Yes, the system can sometime be constraining, but just because we work within the system doesn’t mean we need to give up on balancing a head-down mindset with a heads-up mindset. Having the right balance doesn’t only help the company, but it also helps the individual develop, grow and change.


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