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Change leadership and the innovation mindset

Many of us have cause to be grateful to Carol Dweck for her conception and development of the idea of the growth mindset. A Professor of Psychology at Stanford, Dweck’s research explores the beliefs that people have about the origins and changeability of their talents, intelligence, and actions.

She and her colleagues, in her own words “… found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.

Dweck’s mindset theory is often summarised through the opposing views of the fixed and growth mindsets, as illustrated in this table.

However formulated, it is important to keep uppermost in mind the central tenant that growth mindset is focused on learning. It concerns itself with willingness, openness, passion, agility, risk appetite, etc in relation to learning, change leadership and the innovation mindset.

I, along with countless other coaches and L&D professionals, have found the growth mindset concept immensely helpful in enabling leaders to reflect upon their own openness to growth, the ability of their team – individually and collectively – to grow, and the ways in which their organisational culture enables – or inhibits – such growth.

Increasingly, I have found it helpful in my own praxis to introduce a parallel concept which I have loosely termed innovation mindset. In conception, it parallels the growth mindset but now addresses the willingness, openness, passion, agility, risk appetite, etc to embrace innovation. By this, I mean the desire and ability to re-imagine – to conceive of new, different, improved ways to deliver products, functions or services with greater impact measured broadly.

My own formulation of the concept is still ill-formed not least in terms of how it might be systematised for impact. But, at its heart lies the concept of imagining and re-imagining the world and using those hidden insights to approach problems and challenges differently.

There are, perhaps appropriate analogies to be drawn with Dweck’s growth mindset as suggested in the table below.

Others have written from a variety of perspectives about the innovation mindset. A particularly helpful contribution is the very recent book from Lorraine Marchand, The innovation mindset: eight essential steps to transform any industry, who is Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School and who has held senior leadership positions at Fortune 500s and start-ups. In it, she explores her eight ‘laws’ of innovation as a formula for driving significant and lasting transformation.

In a similar manner to which coaching interventions using the growth mindset concept have been proved highly effective in leadership development, I am interested in exploring how analogous interventions from an innovation mindset perspective might have impact. Furthermore, I am intrigued by the opportunity to view such interventions multi-dimensionally by combing growth and innovation mindsets to view the facility with which individuals, teams and organisations might respond to significant change, or crisis.

I have attempted to view this crudely in the diagram below where I am conceiving of a context of significant change and mapping potential responses to it as suggested by innovation mindset on the abscissa and growth mindset on the ordinate axis.

I have posited a variety of scenario responses when confronting leaders with change or transformation according to their respective positions with regard to growth and innovation mindsets. The scenarios are crude and formalised assessment tools are yet to be developed. However, initial usage with clients in a coaching context have proved insightful and fruitful. Moreover, extending the purview to encompass team members has often offered actionable insights.

These early results are encouraging and suggest that this framework might merit the development of formalised tools to enable change leadership and the innovation mindset to be applied in a more robust, replicable, and impactful way.

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