Creating a mindset for growth starts with changing our behaviour

We make hundreds of decisions every day – what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, how to get to work, and so on.

But in truth we are just making the same decisions over and over again, and often with little variation. Which is not surprising, considering the decisions we make are based on previous experience of what’s worked before.

That same behaviour can apply to the decisions we make in our professional lives too.

But over time this can lead us to build up a fixed mindset regarding people and business practices which can blind us to new possibilities that could – if explored – deliver benefits and growth beyond our existing choices. And in a fast-changing world, a fixed mindset can work to our detriment, especially when our tried and trusted choices start delivering diminished returns.

However, there is much we can do to create a growth mindset and create a more flexible outlook on life.

1. Question everything

Creating a mode flexible mindset starts with a change in our behaviour. According to change management consultant Jennifer Frahm, the starting point is to simply begin questioning the basis for our decisions. And that means asking ‘why’ we are coming up with the decisions we make.

“We can come to positions in our careers with certain beliefs that we hold to be true, but these can be disempowering beliefs that lock us into a specific course of action,” Frahm says.

For instance, a common misconception may be that people under the age of 25 don’t think about their long-term financial future, and hence are not interested in investing.

This belief could lead an adviser to miss out on developing a lucrative niche business working with those younger people who are thinking about investing.

By seriously questioning existing beliefs and how you make decisions, you can open up new opportunities.

Frahm suggests actively looking for examples that run counter to accepted wisdom – a business that succeeded perhaps when everyone said it would fail – and then exploring the cause for its success.

2. Be curious

A four-year-old child can ask hundreds of questions a day, but by the time we reach adulthood that number can fall into single digits. We might kid ourselves that we really do have all the answers, but whatever the reason, declining curiosity is one of the greatest detractors from a growth mindset.

“If you are not intellectually curious then it is very hard to be flexible,” Frahm says. “And it also pays to be a ‘systems thinker’, which means thinking beyond your occupation and your industry boundaries.”

That might mean looking at allied industries and how their members solve disruptive problems, such as other professional sectors. The accounting sector, for instance, is going through dramatic change thanks to cloud-based software packages. While these systems automate some of the work that was previously done by bookkeepers, they also have provided savvy accountants with better knowledge of their clients’ business, and allowed them to move into a more lucrative business advisory role. Often the experiences of leading thinkers in related industries can be adapted, but may not have been apparent to people within your existing community.

3. Treat learning as an investment

It is easy to view education as costly both in time and money. But the more knowledge you acquire the broader your perspective becomes, and it is often the people with the broadest perspective that see the gaps where innovations can arise.

Formal learning, such as through an MBA, can be an expensive pastime. But learning can take a far less costly route. The internet places the world’s education resources at your fingertips, and simply expanding your sources of reading material can broaden your mindset quickly.

4. Build your network

One of the easiest ways to reinforce a mindset is to surround yourself with people who think and feel exactly the same way you do. This creates a social echo chamber, where the ideas you hear are always aligned with your beliefs.

Breaking out of the echo chamber means widening your social and professional circles to include people you would not normally interact with, such as from different generations or backgrounds. Volunteer for charitable work, or take a casual course outside of your usual vocation, such as creative writing or art.

Simply exposing yourself to people from different backgrounds can change how you think about them, smashing through preconceived ideas and building understanding while potentially surfacing new possibilities.

5. Create a new culture

Not even the most curious mind can absorb everything the world has to offer. If you manage a team, then encourage and reward new ideas, and don’t be afraid to let people challenge pre-existing conventions.

It is also a good idea to ask whether your mindset is leading to hiring choices that create a monoculture and ‘group-think’. The current debate regarding workforce diversity is fuelled by studies showing workplaces with strong diversity in gender, age and ethnicity tend to perform better than those of monocultures.

6. Place multiple bets

A growth mindset can lead you to many new places, but not every path will ultimately be rewarding. Thankfully, changing your mindset does not require an all-or-nothing investment. Many of the most successful new companies practice a management doctrine based around so-called ‘agile’ methodologies, where long-term planning and ‘big bang’ projects are eschewed in favour of small ideas that are incrementally advanced based on constant testing.

This means they can be constantly trying new things and testing the results – if ‘A’ proves to deliver a more favourable response than ‘B’, then go with A.

For instance, if old methods of marketing are not reaching your new target audiences, try new ones, such as marketing through social media services like Facebook and LinkedIn. The investment of time and money required to do this is very low, and can be easily stopped if it proves ineffective.

Growth won’t always come from where you expect it to, so having a flexible mindset is essential. Without it, we might never break free of the constraints we have placed around our thinking, and might never see the opportunities that lie right in front of us.

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