In Our View …
We believe the health of a prosperous, sustainable and relevant business can best be
gauged by determining how well it is addressing market needs, filling value gaps and
providing customers with a great relationship experience. This is true now more than
ever before given the unprecedented levels of economic uncertainty, the massive
changes in the competitive landscape and the advent of technological solutions in
almost every aspect of our lives – both personal and otherwise.
To meet this new and much higher test of relevance, we need a “special” group of
people. People who are wired just a little differently and people who, by conventional
standards, are maybe even unusual. In these challenging times, we simply cannot depend
on the tried and the true, the conventional and the careful. In this climate,
opportunities, prosperity and good fortune will not be found through streamlining,
downsizing, re-engineering and formulaic efficiency processes such as Six Sigma. At
best, these are crude instruments of temporary efficiency and no more than basic, shortterm
The conditions we find ourselves in demand something different. Radically different. Put
simply, we need to alter the intellectual “inputs” if we want different commercial
“outputs”, and that begins with the nature and quality of the people we choose to help
frame and solve the wicked problems we face. Call them whatever you want – Change
Agents, Catalysts, Provocateurs or Deviants. At the end of the day, victory and success
will be determined by those people who have a different mindset and set of lenses
through which to look at the world.
R. Douglas Williamson
President & CEO
Prisoners of Our Mindsets …
We must give credit where credit is due, so it is only fair to acknowledge the huge
contribution to this particular line of thinking made by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., a leading
authority in this field, and currently a Professor at Stanford University. She makes a
compelling and convincing case that, more than anything else, success in life and
business has to do with mindset, outlook and the views we hold.
Mindsets are beliefs, powerful beliefs to be sure, but they still represent a choice we are
free to make. A choice to either be outward facing and growth oriented, or inward
facing and protective. A choice to challenge and innovate, or to administer and regulate.
Look around. What is the most appropriate response to the circumstances we find
ourselves in? Is it an open, growth mindset, or a closed, fixed and sheltered one?
In order to navigate these waters and ensure our organizations remain relevant in a
rapidly changing world, we need to pay more attention to the mindsets we ourselves use
and those we foster in our leaders at all levels. Perhaps it is nothing more than dividing
the population into learners and non-learners, but clearly people with a growth mindset
not only seek out challenges, but they thrive on them.
There are more than enough challenges to chew on so, just maybe, we need to do a
better job of identifying, liberating and deploying these “special” people. A growth
mindset is a belief in change, and it frames the way we look at the world, identify
problems, interpret situations and arrive at solutions.
It is quite possible that mindset is more important than talent.
Brain Science and Performance …
Most of us don’t have a very deep, complete or accurate understanding of how the mind
is shaped, and how it works. As a result, we default to embracing the commonly held
assumptions about people, personality, talent and performance. We like to believe that
being smart and being talented is what matters. What differentiates the great from the
good. What separates the successful from the failures.
Luckily, there are others who have made the study of brain science their life’s work,
people like Dr. Edward Hallowell, who would argue that what really matters is what you
do with what you have. These people understand how the brain works, how it can be
mastered and how it shapes our mindsets, beliefs and, ultimately, our behaviour.
Therefore, in the business context, leaders should be judged by how well they get the
best out of people’s brains.
Angela Duckworth, at the University of Pennsylvania, introduces another related
concept. She has shown how “grit”, or determination, trumps IQ as a predictor of
performance and potential, and reminds us the brain is exceptionally “plastic” with a
dramatic ability to grow and change throughout our life. As a consequence, people who
are learners, people who crave experiences, people with a growth mindset, have a better
ability to make the most of what they have.
These are the people we need. People who can go with the flow.
Bottom line, if we do not stretch and challenge the cerebral cortex, and make sensible
use of the knowledge we gain, the brain actually gets stupid. Cultures of suppression,
negativity and lack of originality produce low performing brains. The brain essentially
becomes disabled, the neural pathways get hijacked, and we default to a mindset in
which the ability to cope with change and complexity is dramatically impaired.
Not a good thing in times like this.
Freedom from Certainty …
It is quite possible there is no such thing as certainty, and there never has been. No
matter how much we might want it, and how much it would make life more
comfortable, it just does not exist. The pursuit of certainty is a fool’s game and, yet, so
much of what we do in business is meant to mitigate risk by removing uncertainty.
Dr. Robert Burton has done some excellent work in this regard. He has examined the
strange, unreasoned feelings of “knowing” we all have from time to time that cannot be
explained rationally. As well, he has examined the belief in the certainty we can have
that we are 100% right, even when we are not. He has discovered that the more we
think we are right and/or certain, the more we limit the consideration of there being any
other option or alternative.
Once again, a mindset that can seduce and trap us. In 1957, the term “Cognitive
Dissonance” was coined by Professor Leon Festinger to explain the mental state in which
we think one thing and do another. His observation was as follows, “The more
committed we are to a belief, the harder it is to relinquish, even in the face of
overwhelming contradictory advice”.
The point here is the pursuit of certainty as a form of comfort food is fundamentally
flawed, and even dangerous. The more we attempt to “prove” what we know, the less
likely we are to examine alternatives that may be equally valid, or even superior. Taken
to its logical conclusion, this means we need to begin embracing ambiguity as a
necessary part of the decision making process, and begin growing leaders who are
rewarded and recognized not for what they know to be true, but rather how they are
able to suspend premature judgments.
The Courage to Rebel …
We also confess to having been greatly influenced in our own thinking about the process
of change, transformation and creativity by the work of two groups. First, an
organization known as Volans Ventures (an international group dedicated to
entrepreneurial solutions of which Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, is a Board member) and
secondly, the book “The Power of Unreasonable People” by two great British thinkers in
the field of entrepreneurship, John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan – the title of which
we have used for this paper.
They have given us the factual ammunition, the empirical evidence and the emotional
support to declare that we really do need more rebels in business today. We would even
go one step further and suggest we need them now because the world in which we live
is demanding new, novel and breakthrough solutions, and those are not likely to come
from the “normal” people, but rather the “crazy” people. This is not a new thought.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) wrote many years ago, “The reasonable man adapts
himself to the world whereas the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world
to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.
Once again, we come back to mindsets.
To quote Elkington and Hartigan, “Being unreasonable is not just a state of mind. It is
also a process by which older, outdated forms of reasoning are jettisoned and new ones
conceived and evolved”.
This is exactly what we need more of today in every business we know of. The invisible
traps we have set for ourselves by the way we think and look at the world have now
become serious and debilitating constraints to our ability to imagine any new, better
balanced and more sustainable solutions. We need to find a way to encourage the rebels
who display the characteristics that underpin the value locked in the unconventional
thinking of unreasonable people.
Repertoires of Excellence …
In a world where mindsets matter, and where your own personal view of the world and
your outlook determine your relevance and, hence, your success (either individually or as
an enterprise), we need to examine just how mindsets are shaped. In our view, as the
environment has changed around us, so too has the type of mindset we need from the
leader who will help guide us.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that one’s view of the world, and tolerance for
the new, novel and different, is directly related to the breadth and depth of their
personal experiences. The broader the experience repertoire, the easier it is to make new
connections. This is what allows the brain to form the unique neural pathways that, in
turn, allow a person to “connect the dots” in new combinations for new solutions.
It is important to note the definition of experiences here is somewhat different. It is not
about years of experience on a job or in a role, but rather the variety and diversity of
personal experiences that act as stimuli for the brain. It is the rich tapestry that helps
ensure we do not become locked into narrow channels of thinking, but can instead leap
across domains to collect, share and assemble new patterns of insight.
The rate of new knowledge creation, combined with the ease of access on a real time
basis to information, means that our processing power (i.e. the ability to access and
interpret information) is more important than our stored knowledge. In fact, stored
knowledge is a rapidly depreciating asset as the half-life of anything new or novel is
shortening every day. The better way to differentiate yourself as a leader is to work on
your timely retrieval ability, rather than on your storage capacity. The more new, novel
and different things you experience or have an interest in, the more likely your brain will
be able to fill in missing parts and make a variety of new connections.
The Strategic Mindset …
There are probably six to eight key mindsets that are really required for someone to
thrive as a relevant leader today. Note here, implicit in what we are suggesting is the
knowledge, mindset and experience repertoire of a person is the baseline, the starting
point, from which a leader’s attitudes, traits, characteristics and competencies then flow.
We need to better understand how a person develops their particular basket of
intellectual capabilities, and move beyond teaching them skills to teaching them how to
have a different mindset or view of the world.
Among the necessary business mindsets, perhaps the most valuable is a person’s
Strategic Mindset. This is a complex combination of their Insight, Foresight and
Peripheral Vision which together allow them to not only have a great radar system to
detect signals, but also the ability to make rapid fire connections. It is based, in part, by
confidence, measured by adaptability and fuelled by intellectual curiosity.
Strategy is not created by digging for more facts and evidence in retrospective data to
help you make sense of the past. It is, instead, a more intuitive process of looking
forward and anticipating the changes just over the horizon. It is the type of mindset
enjoyed by Steve Jobs where being prisoner to the status quo is simply not allowed. In
its place, is a certain bold imagination combined with a revolutionary zeal to make
something different, and to do so on your own terms in order to reshape the pieces of
Once again, the raw material for creative insight comes not from years of deepening
your knowledge, but from your ability to access information across a broad and diverse
platform of experiences. The more new and different experiences you have, the better
you will be in making sense of the future.
The Creative Mindset …
A necessary and related companion to the Strategic Mindset is the Creative Mindset,
which we believe can best be understood by reference to what Tim Brown of IDEO calls
Design Thinking, or Roger Martin calls Integrative Thinking. While those authors may
argue about the subtle differences between their two approaches, in our view they are
essentially saying the same thing.
When stripped down to the basics, they are suggesting the creative process begins with
Imagination and Intuition, which fuel the Idea Bank, which then leads to originality and
allows new value to be created. This originality comes from combining previously
unrelated pieces of the puzzle into new combinations and allows for the creation of new
products, services and even new processes which essentially create value out of thin air.
In order to be able to do this effectively, and to do so on an ongoing basis, we need to
look at the essential elements of the Creative Mindset, which can best be explained as
the ability to withhold judgment and not rush to conclusions. In other words, to hold
multiple hypotheses in your mind and avoid the temptation to jump on one over the
other until just the right time.
In a Type A, results-driven world, where we tend to place the “doers” on a pedestal, this
is a very uncomfortable concept. On the other hand, we need to understand that the
right-brain “thinkers” are the ones who create the value platform that others then
exploit. In business today, having the right context has become an absolutely critical
component of the strategy process.
The Transformational Mindset …
The third and final mindset we want to examine in this paper is the Transformational
Mindset. It is the mindset possessed by those who make great changes through their
sheer will and determination, their capacity to persevere and take risk. They often face
ridicule and have to overcome the great obstacles of social acceptance. It seems to us
we need more of these people today, unless we think that doing more of the same is
going to be the answer to the challenges, opportunities and dilemmas of the future.
This mindset is very much like the one employed for thousands of years by the Court
Jester, the one individual who was given immunity by the King to poke fun at the status
quo and who, much to the delight of others who saw what was obvious just as well as
he, revealed truths that dared not be spoken. In business terms, this is about the heretics
and deviants who dare suggest something new or different is needed, and who can see
the limits of a current approach, product, process or service.
In our view, it’s time to relax just a little and then stoke up the courage to step outside
of the mental models and mindsets that trap us. It is about defining new space and
occupying it quickly. It is about change and transformation, or whatever headline you
want to give it. However you choose to label it, it is about carving a new path. May we
suggest your business needs more of this and less of some other things that while on the
surface seem comfortable, safe and predictable, are really the Trojan horse which hides
the forces opposed to change.
Steps to Take :: Actions to Consider
The world we see evolving is an exciting and challenging one. It is a world in which the
array of possibilities is endless, and the need for novelty, imagination and originality has
never been higher. The world of business has an important role to play in shaping the
communities in which we live and building the international bridges that will bring us
This brave new globalized world, with its rich and diverse tapestry, is also a world that is
demanding new answers to haunting questions about sustainability, justice, tolerance
and equality. Business leaders have a powerful platform from which to help transform
the world, but that will depend on the mindsets of those in positions of influence.
Equally, the ongoing business value proposition will require very similar new mindsets.
In order to begin the process, we have provided a short list of possible actions.
Identify the Deviants
The current and future competitive climates will require new ideas, and those are
more likely to come from people who view the world just a little differently.
Organizations will need to do a much better of job of identifying them and bringing
them into the circle of influence. The wise leaders will not only listen to them, but
will give them a voice and the opportunity to shape the future. Think about
reshaping your Talent Evaluation process.
Unleash their Conviction
These individuals thrive on freedom of expression and passion, so let them loose. Tap
into their core purpose and allow them to identify new areas of opportunity for your
organization. Think about creating a Tomorrow Forum as a vehicle for these thinkers
to cast their minds into the emerging trends of the future.
Provide Broad Scope
We know from the work of behavioural economists such as Daniel Kahneman and
Amos Taversky that the key to effective problem solving and decision making is in
the proper framing of the challenge. Accordingly, we need to be open to a healthy
divergent phase of investigation and learn to examine multiple scenarios in tandem.
Rushing to a premature conclusion within a narrow frame is exactly the wrong
formula. Build a component into your Learning and Development initiatives that
Weave the Story
It is part of the human condition to relate to stories and to use them as metaphors
for our own challenges and dilemmas. In an era of Blogs, Facebook and other social
media, there are so many ways to create virtual storytelling communities that will
get people engaged and deployed on the crucial conversations about tomorrow.
Ensure Ample Air Cover
The people you need to help carve the path to the future will be people who stand
out and make others uncomfortable. You will need to ensure they are not
marginalized by those who do not understand the value and purpose of creating a
new mindset. Do not allow the good efforts of a few new thinkers to be drowned
out by the practitioners of the status quo.
The Beacon Group …
We are a Canadian based professional services consulting firm supporting a diverse
portfolio of clients throughout North America and around the world. We work with
senior leadership teams in all sectors and industries, in the development of their
organizational strategies and in leveraging their human capital.
We advise senior leaders on how to transform their culture, improve performance and
build effective leadership capability at all levels. We help:
Identify critical gaps – which impact organizational and leadership effectiveness
Facilitate crucial conversations – in a direct, “straight talk” manner
Align resources – to achieve sustainable high performance
Develop talent – in order to navigate the future
Our practice is divided into four main areas of expertise.
Our Point of View …
Times have changed.
Organizations are facing difficult and complex challenges.
Leaders are being asked to make different choices to confront crucial problems.
In times of turbulence and uncertainty, The Beacon Group helps organizations navigate
the future. We help senior leaders redefine their strategic ambition and identify the
stubborn barriers that are getting in the way. We help them reimagine a new path and
then support them as they take practical steps to enhance performance, improve
effectiveness and achieve new levels of sustained excellence.
Our Promises …
We Believe – mindsets, attitudes, behaviour and character matter and that clear,
consistent and authentic relationships are at the very heart of any “Trusted
Partnership” with a client.
We Commit – to being a progressive, passionate, customer driven partner. We are
thought leaders who are not only responsive, but agile as well.
We Support – progressive leaders and ambitious organizations in transforming business
performance, organizational culture and leadership potential.
We Partner – with senior leaders to help create robust strategies, solid frameworks and pragmatic solutions to their most difficult challenges and intriguing opportunities.
We Achieve – results that make a difference and allow our clients to lead with
confidence, and execute with clarity and accountability.
Organizational Transformation I Leadership Development