Engaging the Adaptive Mindset, Part I

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Engaging the Adaptive Mindset, Part I

What’s in a Mindset?

Carol Dweck, Professor at Stanford University and author of Mindset, writes about two mindsets: a “fixed mindset, where you believe your qualities are carved in stone,” and a “growth mindset, where you believe that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate and build on through your efforts.”

Most of us operate in a working environment of constant change and disruption. For project leaders, who generally operate under such circumstances, a “growth mindset” is necessary to effectively get work done. Regardless of the industry, this new mindset is required to enable leaders to navigate the complexity of our modern business context and successfully execute strategy. We call this an adaptive mindset.

The impending future of artificial intelligence (AI) and computer algorithms requires leaders to have a mindset that creates space for new ideals by building on the traditional foundation of how we get work done. This is also known as the capacity for paradox. This future calls for a curious and resilient mind that is intrigued and excited about experimentation and risk, but can bounce back and learn from failure.

The future of business demands empathetic leaders who can reach past their own biases and learn from the diverse opinions and experiences of others. This mindset needs to cross the boundaries of domains that make up our business functions: strategy, work, and people.

Capacity for Paradox

Before we act, we must think. Our human instincts are usually to rush in to fix a problem, but the ability to quiet the mind and think about what we are facing, before taking action, is paramount.

Quieting the mind creates a space to identify what business environment you’re in and therefore what approach to apply to the project at hand. In particular, organizations across all industries are faced with two environmental contexts—complicated and complex—within project-based work.

Complicated, or technical contexts, are easy to identify and can be solved by applying proven and tested solutions.

Complex contexts are more uncertain—cause and effect cannot be foreseen, patterns emerge from data and interactions, and underlying structures reveal potential paths or courses of actions forward. They call for new ideas to bring about change in multiple places that involve many stakeholders.

The complicated context allows for either this solution OR that solution. The complex context requires, on the other hand, both discipline AND freedom.

Curiosity and Resilience

An adaptive mind requires a very high tolerance for ambiguity and a resilience to overwhelming pressures. Innovation is suppressed under stress. Therefore, if we can withstand these pressures, we can open the door to breakthroughs and creativity.

The default mode network part of the brain is used for delivering certainty, whereas the cognitive control network of the brain is used for creativity. Stress kicks us into our default mode, which is not appropriate for every situation. If the project or situation is complex, we need to be open to innovation and opportunity.

It takes energy and resilience to have a high ambiguity threshold. Being able to experiment and rapidly prototype is key to developing and executing on strategy, but it’s also important to bounce back and accept that mistakes are a positive lesson and useful way forward.

Part II of this blog post will further discuss better understanding stakeholders and how to implement strategies to operate as adaptive leaders. 

A version of this content was originally published by PM Perspectives, Strategy Execution’s UK blog.

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Strategy Execution

TwentyEighty Strategy Execution, the global authority in project leadership training, equips your people with the complete package of technical and leadership skills — the mindset, adaptability,
and expertise to lead and execute projects in any context. With curricula in adaptive strategic execution, project management, business analysis, contract management, and more, Strategy Execution partners with your organization to build skill sets and change mindsets. It’s time to declare a new standard of performance. For more information, visit strategyex.com.
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