Updated: Sep 18, 2020
One of the extraordinary things about being human is that we each have a different experience of the world, and our own unique worldview.
Sure, there can be a lot of overlap between the way any two people view the world, and even in the way they perceive the same event or circumstance, but there is never an exact match. There are always differences. But the ability to form our own unique worldview can be a two-edged sword. In organisations, differences in worldview between management and staff, team members and colleagues can be a benefit or an obstacle - the source of both diversity and conflict, of innovation or stagnation – depending on how we deal with them. When, as often occurs in organisations, differences in strongly held worldviews degenerate into political manouevering and prevent good quality, timely decisions, or impact adversely on organisational culture and relationships, the performance costs can be substantial. Equally, with the right process and skill, differences in the way we see things can open up new possibilities, break through groupthink and produce solutions and innovations that generate substantial revenue. The results – adverse or beneficial – will often depend on what author Carol S. Dweck refers to as a ‘fixed mindset’: how attached we are to holding onto our need to be right, how invested we are in our ego and propensity for preservation of our sense of self or our power and position, and how we communicate our viewpoint. Edgar Schein, who is the Yoda of cultural change, points out in his book Humble Inquiry that in an increasingly complex, interdependent and culturally diverse world we cannot hope to work successfully with others unless we recognise that others know things that we may need to know in order to get the job done. And to do that:
We must become better at asking and do less telling in a [western] culture that overvalues telling. Edgar Schein
With a fixed mindset we prefer to tell, to prove we are right. There is little room for growth of the person or their organisation. With a growth mindset, we prefer to grow as beings, explore possibilities, and ask the questions to which we do not already know the answer. The possibilities for personal and organisational growth are much greater. It’s not hard to see which of those alternatives is more adaptable in a complex, uncertain and rapidly changing world.
Worldview and Mindset Our worldview is our personal mindset. It is the way we perceive and experience the world, ourselves and our relationship to the world. It is our mental model formed from the myriad experiences we’ve had in life and our thoughts about those experiences. The experiences include, or relate to
how we were brought up by our parents,
our laws and institutions
the influence of mass media and social media,
peer pressure in our youth or at work,
our experiences during our work career in various organisations,
the culture in which we live,
the politics of our country,
the culture of our organisations,
our experiences with other people
and the many other events that have shaped our lives. But most of all it is the way that we understand those experiences, the meaning we attribute to them, that determines our mindset or worldview. The mind is such a powerful vehicle for shaping reality that it can take only one brief, single event that we see or feel, one thought that we have, or one sentence that we hear, to shape our future responses – a friend who broke our trust, a person who bullied us, or words from a person of influence who categorises by stereotypes such as ‘women’, or ‘millennial’s or ‘Asians’.
With our thoughts we create the world Buddha
An event occurs, someone says something, someone does something. The thing that occurs and what is said and done are, from the point of view of a camera, fixed in time and space. It is what it is. However, we rarely see things ‘as they are’, because we carry our worldview with us, and that worldview influences how we perceive events. What we perceive as ‘facts’, and the meaning we attribute to them, can create our own heaven or hell, as these three (real) examples show: Scenario 1: Sally, an internal consultant in large organisation applies for a promotion and assiduously practises answers to questions that she anticipates. At interview, she is hit with ‘left field’ questions and chokes, can’t think of an answer. She misses out on the job. The same thing happens at the next promotion interview. So when she applies for a third promotion, she knows with certainty that she will choke and fail if she cannot anticipate the questions. And she ‘knows’ from experience that she cannot anticipate all the questions. Scenario 2: A team of highly trained and knowledgeable engineers work diligently for 6 months to find a solution to a technical innovation for one of their company’s telco products. They try everything they know (and believe they have the best expertise), and hit a brick wall. They conclude that what they are trying to develop is technically too far advanced to create at this time. They give up, and look for something easier to achieve. Scenario 3: There’s trouble at a depot of a large heavy transport depot. Someone posted an objectionable note on the depot’s noticeboard and both management and workers are blaming each other. The dispute has escalated over a few months and has caused $500,000 loss of productivity at the depot. The depot manager has received a threat that he will be stabbed if he attends the staff end-of-year party.
Constructs of the Mind The understandings and meanings in those scenarios are constructs of the mind. They are thought-constructs, shaped within the mind from something that is not tangible, and yet which seems from our perspective to be real. All three scenarios are actual examples from my clients over the years. They were stuck in their own mindsets, in their own mind-constructs. And they experienced their world in accordance with the constructions of their mind. In those three scenarios they were creating their own ‘hell’.
Coaches, change agents and leaders deal with constructs of the mind.
Perhaps the most profound insights into the mind, how the mind constructs reality and mindset, the interplay of the senses and mind, and the inner processes that shape our mind and create our world are found in the practices and writings of the great sages of yoga traditions over the past couple of millennia. The sages dedicated their lives to exploring the mind and the nature and processes of consciousness that shape the mind and reality, including the impact of language on the mind. They learned how to master the mind, free from default control by the ‘monkey mind’. And a key part of that mastery, as with the great martial artists, is the ability to observe the mind at play, withdraw from the constructs of the mind, and live and act in a state of flow that taps into the subtle consciousness from which thoughts arise. In yoga philosophy these mind-constructs are called vikalpas, and are considered to be a key function that keeps us locked into a limited worldview. That is why the great meditation traditions encourage us to still the mind. When the mind is still, free of mind-constructs, even for a moment, we can experience the source of the mind – the I-consciousness from which the mind-constructs arise, and from that stillness we can re-shape the constructions of the mind. That is what I did with Sally, the engineering team and the transport depot managers and staff. They didn’t meditate to do it. They didn’t have to. Meditation is a way to still the mind. But it is only one way. On each occasion we were in a room with a number of their colleagues, and I had to work quickly. All they needed was a second or two in the space between thoughts to break out of their self-imposed limitations and into a different way of thinking and perceiving. In business, where language is a primary tool for communication, questions are the easiest way to make that shift. So I used questions that stilled the mind and that shifted the subtle processes of I-consciousness that shape the mind.
Questions generate content (answers). But before that they activate the processes by which the mind forms the content.
These are processes that are not well known in traditional coach training or change facilitation. But they are the key to the client easily and seamlessly withdrawing from their existing mindset and reconstructing the contents of their mind. By using questions that specifically activate those processes without imposing any content, the client discovers their own insights, re-shapes the contents of their thoughts and creates and owns their own solutions. That’s also how deep engagement, power and commitment is generated.
Ownership empowers. Involvement generates ownership.
And because the processes of consciousness are innate and natural to the formation of the mind and its contents, they work much faster and easier than conventional techniques that intervene at the level of existing content. In 25 minutes, Sally completely changed her internal state and figured out for herself how to hold a state that enabled her to respond easily to unexpected questions. She got the promotion a week later. The engineering team found their solution in just 10 minutes. The solution that had eluded them for 6 months and was considered ‘impossible’. The solution was worth around $100m to their company. They could have been generating that $100m 6 months earlier had they understood how to switch their mind and find the solution. In a little over an hour, six of the transport depot’s managers, union leaders and staff had figured out for themselves that their dispute was the result of their own biases and mindset – constructions of the mind – and then, for the first time in years, spent the next two hours working together to create solutions to the depot’s major problems. The point is that the solutions for Sally and the engineers and the transport depot were always ‘there’, and available – if they could release their contracted mindsets. They couldn’t see the solutions until they shifted mindset.
We can’t solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created the problem in the first place. Albert Einstein
In the examples of the transport depot and the engineers, the individual mindsets were also influenced by their organisation’s culture. In the transport depot, distrust between the management and staff/unions had been entrenched for years. A key feature of the engineers’ organisational culture was that if anyone came up with a solution, they (or someone else, including their boss) would soon find a reason why the solution wouldn’t work. It was like the story of the boy who was collecting crabs at the beach. He put them in a bucket. A man came by and said ‘You should put a lid on the bucket or the crabs might climb out’. The boy replied ‘Not a problem, mister. If a crab tries to climb out, the others drag it back down’. Corporate mindset and personal mindset are inter-related. One affects the other.
If you keep doing things the same way, will you get different results? This is a very different approach to the usual models and processes that have dominated organisations for many decades. The old ways no longer work the way they once did. Which is why change is often experienced as a ‘hard slog’, and organisations chase their tails and struggle to adapt to disruptive change in a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world that challenges and frustrates our established mindsets. We look outside of ourselves for the way to adapt. We seek the answer from within our established framework of thinking, from within our known paradigms, with adaptations of known solutions. But the big disruptions are coming from the minds of people who are thinking at a different level of consciousness. They see the subtle connections of emerging forces that are hidden by the entrenched mindsets and limiting cultures of established organisations. The first place where the change must occur is within the mind, for the mind constructs reality. For that change, or shift, to occur we must know how to see things differently and re-shape thoughts that frame our mindset. Which in turn necessitates shifting the processes by which the thought-constructs are constructed. All that is required is a slight shift in both the processes and state (level) of consciousness that take us closer to experiencing what Abraham Maslow referred to as the real Self.
By Christo Norden-Powers