A mindset is a set of core beliefs, assumptions and mental models. It is highest level of culture, one of the five domains of an agile business.

An agile mindset defines why we need to become more agile.

Agile Culture

About mindsets

A mindset is the most covert part of a culture. We rarely talk about it, keep our beliefs and assumptions for us as disclosing how we think may make us vulnerable.

In business, we are usually focused on driving results and pressed with time. So we rarely, if ever, find the time for quality discussions about the fundamentals, the roots, the why we think as we think. As professionals we are supposed to know. We are hired to act, not to argue.

Mindsets are shaped by experiences and professions. Whether we work in Sales or Finance, Software Development or IT Operations, as Lawyers or Marketers, our professional views of the world start to take shape in university and are confirmed as part of our career progression. Finance is about final outcomes and money. Sales is about opportunity. Software development about creating new stuff, operations about keeping the old stuff running. Conflicts easily erupt along those lines.

Statements like “this will never work” or “where is the money” are revealing mindsets but we rarely ask the questions to reveal them: “Why do you think so?” or “Why do you say that?”. Because they would trigger longer discussions that take time that we feel we don’t have. Or it would force us to justify ourselves which not everybody appreciates. So we shy away from it.

But think about it from the other side: how much time are you wasting dealing with others on a superficial level constantly dealing with hesitation to commit, resistance to execute or rejection to approve? How much more efficient do you think you would be if you could spend some time to truly understand what makes your counterpart tick, learn to see the world from their perspectives, step into their shoes, and start executing smoother based on that newly gained knowledge?

As a futurist I explore and shape mental models. I visualize mental models about the future and about how things work. I develop them in workshops and use system thinking and trend maps to document them. Everybody can contribute their view of the world. Over time, the views of the group align. The jointly created model becomes a powerful base to make powerful decisions everybody can commit to and execute from.

The Agile Mindset

An agile mindset is similar. It defines our fundamental views about what we belief about agile. It typically answers the WHY of an agile transformation and may touch on the WHAT. An agile mindset defines how we see the world being agile vs. doing agile. It’s like a high-level summary of the manifesto of your agile business.

As part of the culture transformation of your agile transformation you will work on defining your agile mindset. An agile mindset is individual. What your agile mindset is depends on your situation and what is important for you.

The best version I found so far from the perspective of business agility is the agile mindset suggested by Simon Powers from which the following version strongly borrows. I hope it can guide you.

Agile mindset example

This agile mindset example is based on three fundamental beliefs that bring together the internal and external view and drive execution.

Agile mindset example

The VUCA Belief

Our world is VUCA and Volatility is the new normal. Nobody can hide from it. Realism demands that we face it and deal with it. The VUCA belief accepts reality.

The VUCA Belief lets us assume that:

  • Many of the challenges we face are complex adaptive problems, meaning that by trying to solve these problems we change the nature of the problem itself.
  • The end solution is not predictable at the outset.

As part of an agile culture, the VUCA Belief ensures that we are guided by an up-to-date, realistic, external perspective including customers, competitors and markets.

The People Belief

A VUCA world requires us to be agile. What is the most agile, flexible, adaptive asset we have? Our people. If you want to sort out any problem, get the right people. They will figure things out for us, without us even knowing, every day. People learn, people adapt.

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

Steve Jobs

The People belief lets us assume that:

  • Individuals are both independent from and dependent on their teams and organisations. Human beings are interdependent.
  • Given the right environment (safety, respect, diversity and inclusion) and a motivating purpose, it is possible for trust and self-organisation to arise.
  • For this to happen, it is necessary to treat everyone with unconditional positive regard.

As part of an agile culture, the People Belief ensures that we are basing our actions on people values including openness, collaboration and trust.

The Proactive Belief

Accepting reality and building your business on people is a great start, but something is missing. The execution. Getting your people to tackle the challenges of the VUCA world requires urgency, speed and action.

The Proactive belief lest us assume that we must proactively and relentlessly pursue improvements.

As part of an agile culture, the Proactive Belief ensures that we are creating the urgency to act aiming at external impact though swift reactions, powerful responses and sustainable results.

Articulating your mindset

You can summarize the above descriptions into a briefer mindset statement like:

“We belief that in order to survive in a VUCA world we need to count on our people to take the right action wherever they stand.”

“Our people are our biggest asset. Only by working together as teams and as an organization we can prevail in our dynamic and fast moving world serving our customers and markets.”

“In a fast moving world we need to be on the lookout constantly, we need to count on our people for this: to explore, experiment and engage our customers, competitors and markets proactively and continuously.”