STEM Foundation

Big Value from Little Wins - Changing the Cultural Mindset

People talk about changing the mindset of businesses’ employees to enable innovation but what does that really mean? In psychological terms, there are two clear forms of mindset: fixed and growth. Fixed mindset people believe qualities such as talent and intelligence are inbuilt and unchangeable, whereas those people who have a growth mindset believe that such qualities can be developed and strengthened through commitment and hard work. From an early age these mindsets take root, and often determine the direction a person takes in life. Growth mindsets naturally veer towards innovation as those people who have such virtues have both the positive personality and greater resilience to address issues when innovations don’t quite work out the way one intends.

Of course, everyone is not born with a growth mindset and there in lies the rub about developing an innovation culture and the constant cry of many innovators to say: ‘Change the mindset, it’s holding innovation back’. Creating a culture of innovation is the hardest nut to crack. You can have your processes, ideation/creativity days out and communication portals but if the predominant mindset in an organisation is fixed, those entrenched views of yester-year will not budge, and innovation will not flourish.

Mindsets change when new beliefs start to emerge, and when emotions linked to those beliefs start to determine behaviours. Innovation is often linked in people’s minds to a ‘fear of failure’. If the predominant mindset in an organisation is fixed rather than growth in nature then lip service will be paid to innovation development literally, just for the appearance, and nothing will result which is of true value.

Changing such fixed mindsets to embrace the positivity and potential of those with growth mindsets requires affirmative steps; an “it is okay to fail” coupled with the mantra “just remember to learn and improve” helps engender a culture of ‘little wins make a big difference’. People need to feel safe, and have the freedom to explore and try new things. Okay, it’s so easy to say on paper, but practically, in business such conditions are not easy to emulate. It’s not about having slides, swings and crazy, funky colours in the workplace; it’s about breaking down silos, bringing together multi-functional/multi-disciplined teams and demonstrating the power of working together towards a common, well-understood and valued goal.

Creating trigger moments to help people think differently and embrace the unknown or untried is essential in the journey of pushing the organization toward more of a growth mindset. Some companies call these Lunch and Learn sessions, others Creativity Sessions. Whatever you call it, the reason you’re doing it is to broaden thought processes and mix things up. Ultimately, look through a different lens at a problem, give it a new perspective or gain new insight. The more you push at established boundaries the more chance you have of allowing something fresh and stimulating to happen. Such activities all support the changing of a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and helping to reduce the fear of failure.

The value of innovation needs to be understood in an organisation to get people galvanized behind the new ideas. Leadership is the key to meet such a demand not just in a drive to achieve quantitative results (read profitability). Although vitally important in business it is not the only reason why an organisation should value innovation. In fact, from the point of view of an employee removed completely from boardroom stats and market capitalization targets, innovation has to become a real answer to their needs, to thus become a valued goal to achieve. Making innovation meaningful and relevant to all; breaking down perceived barriers segregating innovation projects from business as usual, is the task of the business innovator.  These are the ones who will illuminate, within the organisation the true values of innovation, and assist in entwining these values into the DNA of the company.

In innovation culture development the vicious versus virtuous circle model helps us to understand the benefits and the impediments we face. This maps directly on to the fixed versus growth mindset. Having the belief that everyone can make a difference, the belief that what you do adds values to the organisation and in return gives value to you shapes such behaviors as seeking, broadening and embracing – the very tenets of a growth mindset. It also stops organisations thinking of everyone (including their customers) as just data but as people, and thus, gives rise to new opportunities and extends the art of the possible.


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