Navigating turbulence

Keeping innovation alive with your ‘growth mindset’

We typically work with companies that want to force change on their own terms, to disrupt themselves before a competitor does it to them. Many of them are looking beyond their core competencies for the first time; they’re just learning how to tolerate risk, to consider insights and resources from other industries, and to structure their teams for maximum agility. But these traits aren’t just luxuries for stable times — they’re also vital to navigating through turbulence.

You’ve probably read about “growth mindset,” the attitude that skills can be developed with effort (as opposed to fixed mindset, the belief that skills are innate and largely immutable). We all like to believe that we have a growth mindset but, in fact, it’s more like a spectrum.

“Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience,” writes Dr. Carol Dweck, the psychologist and author who popularized the concept.

And our point on the spectrum changes with circumstances.

“We all have our own fixed-mindset triggers,” Dweck continues. “When we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth.”

In uncertain times, a defensive crouch may seem necessary, even smart. But the effects of fear can last longer than the threat. Even in good times, cultures are delicate. A culture that fosters creativity and risk-taking is built slowly, on repeated examples of trust, empowerment, empathy and smart hiring. It takes a lot of time and effort to create this kind of environment, but little to shatter it. The capacity to innovate is not something you can turn off and on like a switch. Decisions you make under duress will affect what you’re capable of doing when the threat has abated.

I recently moderated Episode 2 of the Nottingham Spirk Virtual Webinar Series, called “Innovation in the New Normal,” and one of my panelists, Asad Khan, CEO of Kent Displays, said, “Companies need to engineer the ability to be receptive to changing conditions, and then they will be able to persevere through environments like we are in today.”

Most of us can agree that the year 2020 was not what we expected. COVID-19 has been a challenge like no other in living memory. There may be more challenges yet to come this year. Don’t lose sight of your values. In the end, they are our most important assets.

Bill Nottingham is vice president of Nottingham Spirk, which was founded in 1972 and has developed hundreds of patented products that have generated more than $50 billion in sales for companies that lead their respective industries and for fast-growing entrepreneurial firms.