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  • Writer's pictureNick Smith

M is for Mindset

One of my favourite business books is The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore. Published in 1999, it sets out an evolution of prevailing economic models activity from commodities, through goods then services, to (as the book's title might suggest) experience. Both describing and predicting, the final part of the book pointed to transformation succeeding experience as a basis for differentiation, and highlighted some of the characteristics of a 'transformation economy'. I've found it fruitful to revisit Pine and Gilmore's thinking and apply it to transformational change.

Here's some of their key points:

  • 'Transformations cannot be ... delivered ... they can only be guided'

  • 'Transformation changes the being' of the individual or business undergoing it

  • Transformation 'aspirations centre on what the customer [ie individual or business] wants to become'.

I'm struck by the degree to which most talking therapists would agree with these assertions if they were applied to working their working / therapeutic practices with clients they're helping to change significantly. And that then prompts me to ask about the nature of transformational change that is implicit in this understanding. I think, first, there's the recognition that transformation has to be about more than what we do - it involves what we are. Changes to what we do (in a business context the processes we follow, the systems we use, and the roles and structures in which we work) may point to and 'concretise' what we are, but they're certainly not the sum of what we are. That's why transformation can be guided but not delivered.

Second, if transformation changes what we are (individually or organisationally), then that 'what we are' surely has to be both describable and something to which we aspire - without aspiration, we're unlikely to shift. So, transformation almost inevitably involves a compelling vision that provides a 'framing' or 'reframing' of things - and with that a narrative, values, a worldview. It's about adopting a new mindset. It's easy to see that this matters: envisage a transformation designed to bring about step change in customer responsiveness (or anything else for that matter). How transformational will things really be for a business where new customer-facing processes are put in place, but there's no shift to a mindset focused on customer responsiveness? If you want some evidence for this, there's a McKinsey piece from last year with survey findings that 'companies that take the time to identify and shift deep-seated mindsets were 4x more likely to rate their change programs as "successful"'.

And finally, (and it's a point made clearly by Pine and Gilmore), changing what we are will almost inevitably have a moral dimension - and we'll want guides who we can trust to see the world the way we do.

So what, for change practitioners and leaders. So quite a bit, I'd suggest. Just scratching the surface:

  • Maybe be wary of those who promise to deliver you transformation rather than to guide it with and for you. And if you're really promising to deliver transformation, be clear on why and how you can be trusted to deliver changed mindsets

  • If transformation necessitates mindset change, then it invariably has to involve work on culture change - so you better have an approach for that, and be prepared to commit to the behavioural modelling through which culture will be caught

  • And, if we want to shift mindset, are we equipped to engage with the values and feelings of those impacted by transformation? What will we do if they don't feel safe, or if they view the end state model as 'wrong'?

There's more, of course, and the above skates over some important and complex discussions. But it's a plea to recognise that there's no transformation without changed mindsets - and that requires real attention. What do you think?

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