Mindset: Limits and Opportunities

The concept of mindset and tenets has proved useful in the coaching context. It effectively supports cognitive flexibility and brings coachees into contact with a wider range of tools to actively meet the challenges delivered in their life and work settings. It is good to see that many schools of mindset work are moving away from the normative concepts that hide behind such names as growth mindset and agile mindset. While those used to be and still are often sold to organizations, other phrases – like mindset plasticity and flexibility – make it apparent that what’s really at stake is an ability to react to situations rather than to loyally follow old scripts, as transactional analysis would put it. We are dealing with degrees of freedom and a credo that we know from the very roots of psychoanalysis: Awareness widens the range of possibilities – the possibilities to be able to react and act differently.

Despite this dynamic development in the mindset scene, the sales brochures continue to contain some blind spots – not everywhere, but still frequently enough. I have pointed out the roots of mindset in earlier articles (@myndleap @rüdigermüngersdorff @synnecta) and have sketched out a much wider basis for this approach. In the following I want to point out two aspects of mindset work that have not been fully tapped into.

Firstly, I keep coming across the phrase »emotionally charged belief sets«. As so often in Western culture, our fixation on cognitive structures and contents demotes emotions to secondary events that only serve to charge something. Psychotherapy has throughout its by now quite long history taught us at least that emotions are in fact dynamics in their own right that must be perceived and talked about as such. All research into the effectiveness of psychotherapy and coaching has shown that the most important effective factor is the relationship between the participants. This has to do not least with the fact that emotions are perceived and felt in the relationship between people. Great value can be ascribed here to the discovery of transference. These phenomena do not merely describe a misperception, but shape the very place where emotions take place before they can be translated into cognitive events or speech. The fixation on methods in most mindset schools dramatically underestimates this aspect of the work. In my projects in the Asian sphere I talk not only of mindset but also of heartset. This meets with great approval in those cultures and provides an approach to elevate emotional as well as cognitive flexibility. Repetition compulsion – the very opposite of flexible, appropriate perception and action – is not primarily tied to a structure of insight, evaluation and decision-making, but to an emotional reaction to the inner and outer context: a scene. This is where links are made and limits drawn, where beliefs attain the power of their message to guide actions. As long as we are unable to talk about the scenic feelings of fear, shame and guilt (qualities of transference and counter-transference), mindset work will not be able to deliver more than temporary patches.

In the face of the cognitive fixation and belief in methods that is inherent to many mindset schools, I keep returning to the same question: Who ever claimed that you think with your head rather than with your whole body? We cannot perceive our emotionality without encountering our physical side; as long as we do not experience the heartset, our mindset work cannot penetrate beyond the surface.

The second major fault of mindset discussions is their blindness for the conditions that are material to effective organizational development. While we are witnessing a cultural turn or a sociological turn in the cultural sciences, the soft consulting scene is experiencing the growth of a psychological approach. The statement that ‘I live my life’ holds as much truth as the claim that »My context lives me«. Prevailing resilience concepts call upon the individual to change, and the same is true in organizational development. This approach is based on the conviction that success will follow once all employees have developed a growth mindset, an agile mindset or a whatever mindset. There is a belief that this is the only path to changing our culture and supporting our organization goals. Practice shows, however, that this is an illusion. All organizations have a specific culture: their collective mind- and heartset, if you will. This culture is reproduced within the organization even when all its people are changed. (It is a deflating experience indeed to see a manager behaving so differently during training than in their company context.) In individual mindset work it seems to be apparent that beliefs are localized in the brain – although I would locate them in the body. In organizational development, we need to ask that old question about culture: where and how do we locate the consistent cultural patterns in organizations? Cultural sciences have a number of approaches to meet this question. These need to be integrated into organizational development. They are mostly relational and can hardly be captured with a classic thought pattern of cause and effect. It is about creating visibility for the web of relationships within which perception, decision-taking and action take place. As in individual work, the first step is awareness. These thoughts return the concept of mindset back to its origins: research into mentality in social classes and groups. It grasps how mindset work can help us understand the ties of collective behaviour, while at the same time opening a chance for emergence. Using Robert Musil’s words, we could say that working on the collective mindset means to add a sense of reality to a sense of possibility.

#myndleap #mindset #mindsetcoaching #organizationaldevelopement #synnecta #denksinnlich #collectivesmindset

This article was first published at www.myndleap.com
© Artwork: Mitra Art, Mitra Woodall

Some Thoughts about Mindset: a trending term

How we see the world, and what we know about it, is shaped by what has gone before: it is conditional. The notion that our perception and understanding creates an image of the world has long been doubted. At least since the time of Kant, we have known that perception is shaped by a priori concepts, which include how we assess space and time within our perception as well as, for example, the role of causality in understanding. We shape our perception of reality, we do not make an image of it. Hermeneutics, the philosophy of language, has differentiated further the notion that we shape our perception and understanding. Psychology has revisited the epistemological analysis in addressing the meaning of our individual cognitive and emotional development for the way we perceive and understand an internal as well as an external reality, centring on the idea of repetition. This relates further to the works of cultural anthropologists and sociologists who first identified class-specific patterns in perception, understanding and action (the concept of mentality), in order to subsequently expand this to take in the construction of national patterns of perception and thinking. In our times, radical constructivism has addressed the conditions that shape our access to reality. It significantly influenced what we now define as »systemic«: one of the modern foundations of organizational development.

The introduction of the systemic approach has made it clear, among other things, that the structure of a chain of cause and effect can only provide a limited understanding of individual and collective perceptions, ways of thinking, emotional states and accordingly means of decision-taking and performance. Cause and effect works perfectly on all things that are consciously created and manufactured by humans, but is less powerful when it comes to actions set by individuals and collectives. These require an additional understanding of conditionality. That concept is not as clear-cut as the principle of cause and effect. There is not a single condition that lets us understand a particular mode of conduct. Once again, however, it is a concept that is not new: we find it in Buddhist thought, which may explain why an iterative way of working is so much more easily realized in the Asian context.

Mindset describes what used to be called culture in organizational development. Both terms have the advantage that they are highly unspecific and therefore applicable to a range of approaches. While there is always a marketing aspect to be borne in mind in the evolution of concepts in organizational development, we can nevertheless learn from recent analyses of culture and mindset. We construct our reality both individually and collectively from the viewpoint of our individual and collective habits, of where we have evolved from. In the concepts of radical constructivism that also includes functional adaptation. Our decisions and actions are therefore based individually as well as collectively on a priori concepts: they are shaped by what has come before our current reality.

The more recent work on mindset has the advantage that it concentrates more fully on methods that allow us to focus with greater awareness on some of these a priori concepts that shape us. It is a useful method to achieve reasonably fast results for our own conduct. In doing so, we tend to overemphasize our individual mindset in line with the modern credo that »I am the master of my perception, insight and action«. While it is useful to uphold this notion in order to sustain a subject that is autonomous in action, it also leads us to overlook the collective conditions that shape our perceptions, insights, emotions and eventually our decisions and actions. We need a clear awareness of the collective mindset and, going on from there, methodically expand on its significance. Otherwise, mindset work will remain a limited tool in organizational development.

With #Myndleap, #sisko #oudheusden #muengersdorff are zooming in on methodical work with collective mentalities – mindsets – that enables change. It is the only path to achieving sustainable profit for organizations.

The guiding principle was formulated by Ernst von Glasersfeld in 1987, based on the thesis that we establish the very world we perceive involuntarily because we do not pay attention to – and therefore obviously do not know – how we do so. It is a deeply unnecessary lack of awareness. Radical constructivism, similarly to the critique offered by Kant, states that we are largely able to tap into the ways by which we construct the world we experience. The resulting awareness in our operative actions (…) can help us change and maybe improve. (Ernst von Glasersfeld: Wissen, Sprache und Wirklichkeit, Braunschweig 1987).

The »maybe« that Glasersfeld inserted into his hopeful sentence makes it clear how much all that talk about a growth mindset simplifies matters. Where do we find hope? By individually and collectively becoming aware of the a priori concepts that mostly shape our perception, sensation, decision-taking and conduct subconsciously, we gain the freedom to do things differently.

Rüdiger Müngersdorff
Photo: Danny Lines by unsplash.com

Mindset – our basic thesis

Basic Thesis

Each person acts from an individual mindset [as part of the personality]. Human communities act from a collective mindset [as part of culture].

What is a Mindset?

A mindset comprises personal or collective dominant attitudes and thought patterns, as well as basic attitudes, convictions and beliefs.

Why is Mindset important?

A mindset is highly dependent on perceptions, feelings, thinking, decisions and behavior, and has an effect on the shaping of relationships, group dynamics, group identity and culture.

How is a Mindset created?

An individual mindset develops in the course of life and continues to develop. It is shaped by education, social context [values, norms and rules, as well as the collective mindset] and is influenced by experience [learning]. A collective mindset is created by the subconscious passing on of specific thought patterns, attitudes and beliefs [e.g. through traditions, community rituals and symbolic systems].

When/Why should one deal with Mindset?

A mindset shapes the available room for thought, decisions and behaviour, thus opening up possibilities and limiting possibilities.

Is Mindset changeable?

A mindset can be changed. Reflection upon, awareness of, and active engagement with mindset open up spaces and possibilities for movement and development. By moving an individual mindset, the collective mindset can be influenced and vice versa.

At Werkhaus19 we have dealt intensively with the topic MINDSET and will continue to work on it, think, write about it in the future.