What is a mindset and why does it matter?

What is a mindset?

If you are really ambitious, I believe that rather than setting out to accumulate as many material things as you can, you should be aiming to spread mindset; a point of view. This blog is very much focused on innovation as a mindset, not as a collection of tools and frameworks that anyone can pickup and magically turn him/herself  into an innovator.

The idea that innovation is a set of activities is an easy sell, the idea that innovation is a mindset is hard to swallow for most people. Tools are meant to be straightforward, mindset creates tension because goes deeper; it challenges you.

Mindset is a fuzzy word. So, what is a  mindset?

In their book Scaling Up Excellence (which you should read), Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao describe mindset as an action orientation, a set of implementation intentions. And to determine an organization’s mindset, they ask two simple questions:

  • What’s sacred here?
  • What’s taboo?

The first question refers to the one thing people do without questioning it. The second question refers to the one thing you’ll never do and no one is ever going to question that either. They conclude that all organizations that scale well are very clear about what’s sacred and what’s taboo.

Most, of course, are not clear about either.

Try the following exercise to determine what your organization’s mindset is: ask a group of people the above questions, if you get different types of answers you got a problem because no one agrees with what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Scaling mindset is about instilling the right set of beliefs and behaviors in people, which isn’t a easy task but it is the most important task for any founding or existing management team. When we talk about mindset, we are talking about culture: what people care about, what you stand for, etc..

Developing, scaling and maintaining an organization’s mindset is a never ending challenge in every type of organization. It isn’t just about putting heart-warming-poetic words on the office walls. It’s about turning those words into concrete actions person-by-person, day-by-day, week-through-week and month-through-month.

In the video below Bob Sutton talks about how to scale excellence in an organization:

Bottom line: Businesses that don’t have a distinct mindset, a point of view, are setting themselves up to eventually fail. Why? It’s simple; organizations with the strongest opinions win.