While one may not agree with Hamlets’ statement that “there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so”, it is clear that our mindsets matter a lot in how we perceive life, how we are perceived and the degree of success we may have in our varied endeavors.
In rapidly changing and chaotic times an agile mindset can be critical to success. While there are many personal trainers to help sculpt our bodies into somewhat supple forms, there is a scarcity in those who can show us how to exercise our minds to be as flexible as they need to be.
The ability to change one’s mindset and see, feel and think differently about an issue is often the key differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not.
Here are some perspectives on how we can sculpt our minds to thrive in a transforming world:
1.Accept human reality:
Life is a journey through reality and time in search of meaning.
We seek meaning within the constraints of reality.
The potential of who we want to be and where we want to go constrained by what is and what will be.
When you live your life are there some underlying beliefs and truths that drive you or you measure yourself against? If we are to grow, where are we trying to go?
Competition it is not with other people but to get better every day and to get closer to what you believe or your ideals. Your success is not housed in other people’s minds (what they think of you) but in their hearts (what they feel about you) and in your mind (what you think of yourself).
At its essence life is about loss, love and learning,
Loss is central to the human experience in three ways. The first is we often lose in our attempts to succeed. We lose pitches, Clients, jobs and opportunities. Many times, we win. Some people win little, and others win a lot. But we all lose. But these losses are not the big ones. The second bigger losses are the losses we will face of loved ones and friends either because relationships end, or death comes, and our final loss is that of our lives.
How we live amidst this loss defines a large part of life.
The joy we make is because time is precious, and this moment of victory may not last forever. Given that loss is part of human existence it pays to be kind and to think about how to help those in loss for do not ask for whom the bell tolls since it tolls for us.
A big part of what makes life worth living despite the guarantee of loss is the hope of love and joy of learning. Love of people, of work, of art, of culture. Love may not compute but computers do not love. There is a great deal of progress made over generations on who one can love, the ability to do things one loves and because of modern technology to be exposed to new worlds, horizons and things to love.
And learning is particularly joyous. Learning in its first form is building knowledge. With great knowledge and practice we build skills and craftsmanship. Learning to see things from other perspectives gives us understanding. Sometimes if we are lucky, we can graduate from knowledge, skills and understanding to wisdom.
2. Align with the force: Yoda wishes that the force be with us. But what is this force that we need to align with? Tangible reality would be a great place to start. Besides human reality that we will all die (but others will be born), there will be loss (but there will also be gains) and life cares about the species and not the individual (sorry but that is how evolution works). Science matters. Gravity does not care whether you accept it. Jump out of a tall building and you will die. Gravity did not care and did not know you existed. In addition to science there are some harsh business realities. Three in particular: Globalization. Digitization. Markets.
One can fantasize as much as one wants but these three forces are unstoppable and now the Internet (“Connection Engine”) acts like Viagra on them, where each force connects to and rejuvenates the other.
If you wish to thrive and make a living accept and prepare yourself for increased digitization, globalization and market forces (markets are why China and India have risen more than anything else over the past two decades). They will be impacting every single industry and crevice of life.
All the fretting, complaining and hoping that these three realities go away is a complete and total waste of time. They just are and they will be. Let us use our energy to learn new digital skills, find ways to expose ourselves to different global experiences and learn a little economics.
3. Optimism matters: In the novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Thomas Pynchon a character is described as one whose “mood collapsed the room”.
While misery may love company, nobody likes being in the company of miserable people. Optimism is not just an essential component of innovators but a trait that you must have if you wish to inspire folks to follow you. “Woe is me, doomed are us” works for a few drinks in a bar, but at the workplace it saps energy, hurts culture and is just a plain downer. Pessimism is something we all wallow in, but it fails to show the way out. If you cannot get yourself positive about what you do or where you do it for a majority of your working days (there will always be days from hell where you feel crushed and beaten), then do yourself and your company a favor. Quit!
A way to get optimistic is to forget all the legacy nonsense you may have to grapple with and ask that if you had a fresh sheet of paper, a subset of the talent in your firm and its assets (brands, network, money), what would you do? You likely will find you actually are looking forward to what you and your company can do. Every day is a new career beginning. Tomorrow is where you will spend the rest of your life. So, buck up!
4. Recognize the opposite is also true: To sell a point of view or a recommendation it is critical to know its weaknesses and the information that you may not know. since you are aware of the variables that went into your recommendation.
I suspect folks who only see one side of a story or position. Their minds and positions are not subtle but brittle. Brittle cracks at first true opposition.
Look at the world through a different lens. We can have blind corners in the areas where we are most competent since we often stop needing to look out in those areas. Practice building the strongest opposing case. The stronger you can build it the more likely your recommendation may be correct if you still choose to make it.
5. Constant iteration & compound improvement: Inside our hard skulls is the most beautiful software. But like all software if it is not constantly updated and enhanced it will be irrelevant to the applications and tasks that the modern world requires.
We all need to be students again. Apprentices this time since only by doing can we enhance our craft. Iteration happens by doing, testing, incorporating, rejecting, and being active! Do not over think. Every day try to learn one new thing or one new feature or try one new experiment of some sort. Incorporate what works, learn from what does not.
This way your software keeps improving and you signal that you are willing to learn new things and see things in new ways and are not some ossified, stuck in the mud slug of a carbon life form. Computers that cannot run new software are junked regardless of how pioneering, famous and awesome they once were.
Three ways on how you might start this very minute begin to embrace Compounding Improvement
a) Discipline equals freedom: This is the title of a book by Jocko Willink, a Navy Seal. Basically, if you want to get a grip on the world get a grip on yourself.
b) Expose your mind to new and different stimuli: Innovation and change is often about connecting the dots in new ways. To do so, one must be aware and familiar with a lot of dots and not just the dots at work.
The world is changing so fast that many of our skills and expertise and mindsets need continuous upgrading. While many of us set aside time to exercise to maintain our physical operating system we need to also feed and exercise our minds. The power of this habit is that at the end of a year you will have spent 365 hours learning new things by just doing one hour a day. You will gain compound returns to thought!
c) Deliberate practice: Professor Anders Ericcson who died a few month ago wrote a book called “Peak” which is the best study of deliberate practice which entails immediate feedback, clear goals and focus on technique. According to his research, the lack of deliberate practice explained why so many people reach only basic proficiency at something, whether it be a sport, pastime or profession, without ever attaining elite status. A great resource for deliberate practice is here.
6. Improvisation and fluidity.
We are living in a jazz age and not a classical one.
In classical music —particularly orchestral music—there is a conductor that musicians follow, sheet music one sticks too and a hushed auditorium one sits in.
Jazz on the other hand is a mix of classical, swing, blues and much more but at its heart it’s about improvisation. It is about playing off each other. There is no conductor. Rare is there a hushed auditorium but more likely a noisy club or the anguish of a lonely saxophone in a subway station.
Today we are living in a diverse, global and connected world where we have to work together, we have to fuse our different cultures and beliefs and constantly adapt and improvise.
We need to shape shift; we need to flow, and we need to adjust.
Water over rock.
Rock against rock leads to small pieces of rock.
Water flows above and below and around rock and moves onward.
Soon the rock erodes.
Water over rock.
In the end it is important to understand the difference between internal barriers and external barriers. Most of us complain about external barriers that are often impossible to change but we shirk from attacking our internal barriers which we have much greater control of.
Improve your mindset.
After all, as the famous public service announcement says.” a mind is a terrible thing to waste” …
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Art by Pablo Picasso
Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/