Mindset Innovation… It's Time to Move On

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Why do we imagine the mind is the source of ideas, habits, frameworks, action….?

From the endless articles on the importance of having a certain innovation mindset to Systems Thinkers such as Donella Meadows who says “Paradigms — the mind-set out of which the system arises” — the claim is the same: the mind and our internal beliefs are the source from which things arise.

The assumption that follows is always: change the mind/internal patterns and everything will follow. You will be innovative. You will be creative.

But there are many problems with this model — let’s look at three:

Innovation Mindsets Gets the Mind Wrong

First, It gets the mind wrong: the mind is not some mental “thing” that is locked inside the skull/brain — it is an embodied, embedded, extended and enactive process. Looking for the mind in the brain is like looking for flight inside the wing of a bird (as Evan Thompson likes to say — here Enactive Cognition is worth checking out). Ideas and “minds” arise out of worldly relations.

Mindsets are Internal

Second, it internalizes what would be externalized: There are two parts to this:

  1. Paradigms/“mindsets” are outcomes of distributed assemblages — they are in no way “mental” (in the mind/arising from the mind/head/brain)
  2. It is a political operation to personalize and internalize what is the outcome of a distributed assemblage. This takes great effort and infrastructure (who benefits?).

Mindsets Are False

Third, it has a false model of causality: how we think is because of what we do in the concrete situations we find ourselves — not the other way around (see #1 above). It also posits a linear model of causality when we are dealing with highly dynamic, non-linear, relation-dominant, emergent processes.

The idea that if we “change our minds and everything follows” is a highly debilitating approach to reality in which we falsely see ourselves as the cause/blame/source etc.

There are many variations of this from the mindset movement to the systems thinking paradigm approach (more nuanced). They are debilitating because they shift our attention away from the messy, uncertain work of relational change making within complex adaptive systems that require us to work collectively.

There is much more to say about this — but for now: it is high time we got out of our heads and got down to thinking and doing where it actually happens: in and of a world.

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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