Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Changing your mind about your heart: Shifting Mindsets – Part 2 of 4

In my first article I introduced the Human Capability sets and the “doing” aspects of human capability.

In this article, the second of four,  I will refer to the thinking quadrants of the human capability sets, and talk about the magic lever of using the team heart-set to affect the mind-set.

The THINKING Human Capability Sets

The top two thinking quadrants are a little more difficult to develop. You can’t just use a tool, framework or canvas, and, hey presto, be a great growth minded thinker. All you are doing is utilising the toolset and skill-set pieces. Growth minded individuals in these top quadrants require a strong ability to be able to operate in the abstract and cognitive space, and be able to switch and shift when required.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book “Thinking fast and slow” refers to two ways of thinking – system 1 and system 2. System 1 is the fast, heuristic based blink response like recognising a face. System 2 is mentally processing an activity like multiplying 34 by 8. The ability to take complex tasks and be able to manipulate and juggle these in the abstract and mental space is like processing in memory instead of using a hard-drive, and it’s faster. The challenge is that most people are just too overloaded to be able to do this, and because, quite frankly, it’s too difficult and our brains have become lazy.

An interesting cognitive effect has happened to today’s modern individual. Our lives and cognitive abilities have become over-cluttered, reducing their effectiveness to solve complex problems. You see your brain as a fuel tank. Each time you switch your focus, attention, or tasks you use up some of the brain fuel. Since you only have a certain amount of brain fuel each day, switching continually between small activities like email, mobile notifications, and interruptions chews though this fuel rapidly, leaving you low on supply for complex problems that require deep thinking. So, the modern employee tends to become highly skilled at managing multiple interruptions, never quite making it to that great bubble creativity in the sky. Check out the graph on productivity below.  All this technology and all these apps have not helped our productivity. In fact, they have done quite the opposite. Is there any wonder why the post-it note has become so popular again?

Knowledge Sets

To some degree, this is why I believe design and agile use visual languages, as well as heaps of post-it notes. These disciplines use a set of techniques to extract heuristics that are locked away in mental models you have developed over time. The intention is to move these techniques into the concrete space so that they become more real. This is one of the main focus points of design thinking. It requires great skill to understand what tools to use to best extract hidden heuristics locked away in the knowledge sets of customers and stakeholders.

This becomes increasingly difficult as you try and draw upon insights for a future that is unknown. In other words, the solution is not just locked away in the knowledge sets of stakeholders. Only by merging mental models and heuristics from multiple stakeholders, can you make logical leaps of the mind to imagine solutions to an unknown future. This is why the mind-set and knowledge set quadrants are so important to those in design thinking. It is important to include the right people in the room who have the right knowledge sets to draw from. It is especially important for complex problems like homelessness, climate change, war, and politics. In these areas that require the complex problem solving and creativity skills mentioned above, the balance of mind-set, knowledge-set and skill-set is essential to be able to address challenges that we face.

The average knowledge worker trades in knowledge and information. You see this a lot in organisations that have a strong output based culture as opposed to an outcome based culture. It’s all about the knowledge captured in a document. The document is seen as a form of currency. This is the currency that knowledge workers trade in. Many years ago, in my Accenture days we had “the THUD test”. At the end of a project each team member would take their documented deliverables and drop them onto the ground. Whichever created the loudest thud would be the individual that had contributed the most and therefore worked the hardest….pause for effect…THUD.

This knowledge is a representation of an individual’s heuristics, in other words the rules of thumb that are used to solve a problem are translated into document form. You and I all have these recipes and patterns as part of our knowledge-sets. Over time we have developed them through success and failure. The more we use and test them, the more worn the path becomes, and the more fixed the recipes become. Breaking these heuristics for someone with a fixed mind-set is incredibly difficult to do. If you are of a growth mind-set, it is less so. This means that affecting the mind-set is, in fact, key for both an individual’s success, and the success of a team.


Carol Dweck, in her book on Mind-sets, gives a great view of the differences in fixed and growth mind-sets.

The fixed mind-set – “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mind-set—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over…. I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves—in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will, I look smart or dumb? Will, I be accepted or rejected? Will, I feel like a winner or a loser?”

The growth mind-set – A growth mind-set is based on the belief that your basic qualities can be cultivated through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents, aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience. Do people with this mind-set believe that anyone can be anything they desire, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with dedication to passion, toil, and training.

The view below, from Jeanne Liedtke and Tim Ogilvie, can help paint the differences visually for you.

In today’s world of agile, design, learn-fast, fail-fast and scale-fast, there is a strong shift towards more growth minded individuals. With agile principles such as

  • individuals and interactions, over processes and tools;
  • working software, over documentation; and
  • responding to change, over following a plan

you can see how this growth mind-set is working its way into the culture of delivery. The challenge is that the higher you go up the hierarchy of an organisation, the more you encounter people with well-worn heuristics and pathways, and dare I say, fixed thinking. Notice I said fixed thinking. I often encounter great growth minded execs that have learned to play the game and think in a fixed way, governed by the systemic pressures and moulds of an organisation. Liberating these leaders from the confines of fixed thinking and empowering them to operate in their natural space will have significant benefits to innovation and success in most organisations.

Peter Senge’s book on “The dance of change” gave a great illustration. When people use the word “drive” change, it’s like putting a seed in the soil and shouting to it to “GROW, GROW, GROW!”. True change only comes from nurturing the environment, fertilising the soil, sunshine, water, and the correct balance of such. This allows the seed to grow to its potential and in time produce good fruit. Thus, the soil of the environment can allow growth mind-sets to both form and flourish.

But, how do we create this environment? I explored behavioural science further, looking for some way to break the back of toxic cultures that I kept on coming up against in the corporate world. I even looked deeper into a popular view within Australia of the “tall poppy syndrome”, its origins and effects on generations within Australia culture.

What I was looking for was something that could affect the mind-set in a positive way – something that could change belief systems and thus have a much larger impact on changing the way that people think. Along the way I discovered some fascinating insight around “coding” the mental models using some dubious marketing techniques like culture jamming. I even started a gamification company to take advantage of these techniques.

As I explored game theory, game dynamics, aesthetics and mechanics I realised that there was a powerful combination of levers that could be used to affect emotions. And if you can affect emotions you can drive behaviours.

I also believe that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”. So, actions are, in fact, guided by the heart. If I could affect emotions and the heart, I could change behaviour in a more positive and longer lasting manner.

So, I trained up in the science of motivation and certified myself as a coach with specific focus on employee engagement. I figured I had focussed a lot on the brain of the business already, perhaps there were some additional solutions in the heart of the business – in other words, the soil of the environment.

The science of motivation: Engage and Grow

Dealing with the heart

So just like the body, where the brain needs oxygen and nutrients to survive, so too does the brain of the business need oxygen and nutrients. And as the heart pumps nutrients to the brain, so the heart of the business, its teams, culture, and soil pumps blood to the brain of the business. This is the heart-set, the missing piece of the puzzle in the model above.

From my research, it has become clear that the heart of teams and perhaps entire organisations is not pumping well. In westernised countries, on average, as much as 56% of staff is disengaged, and 20% are highly disengaged whilst actively destroying progress and success in the team.

The challenge is that this can’t be solved by enterprise feedback architecture, or more performance reviews, or incentives, or the host of other tactics being used to try and effect employee engagement. You need to change behaviours, and behaviour change starts with the heart. It takes from 7 or more weeks to change people’s behaviour. So, we apply a coaching process over 12 weeks to shift the behaviour of the team, thereby creating the right soil for greatness.

Our Engage and Grow program uses science and motivation levers to create the right soil for mind-set change, which will have an ongoing, cascading effect through all behaviours of the team and even broader, the organisation.

What we have seen is a positive impact on profitability, customer ratings, productivity, and staff turnover. But, even more impressive, is the huge impact on team culture, creating the right heart-sets to develop truly high performance teams.

I’ll finish off with a quote from someone with a little more credibility than myself – “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care for your employees, they will take care of the clients” Richard Branson.

Watch out for part 3 on linking employee engagement to customer experience, churn and NPS.