Viewing Posts by Ryan Gottfredson
Let me start with what I have come to believe as truth:
What is Mental Maturity?
Mental maturity relates to our ability to think in more complex and agile ways.
Let me give you an example of what this means.
Consider the conflicting needs that we are all facing with regards to the Covid-19 situation: need for safety and the need for a healthy and working economy.
Those who are less mentally mature tend to either (1) avoid the conflict altogether, or (2) rush to take a stance on one side or the other, often with rather strong opinions.
Those who are more mentally mature do a better job sitting with the conflict. This allows them to do a better job of exploring the pros and cons associated with each side of the conflict
Thus, one indicator of our mental maturity is that we have the ability to sit with and effectively deal with complexity.
Levels of Mental Maturity
I don’t think that mental maturity is as cut-and-dry as this, but experts on the topic have identified three different levels or plateaus of mental maturity.
1. The Socialized Mind
Someone at this level is subject to the values and expectations of their surroundings. Their desire is to “fit in.” Any perceived unalignment with their social surround feels risky and dangerous because not fitting in means being cut off from the social protections of being involved in the group. One’s focus at this level of maturity is on being evaluated favorably by those around them, and their sense of self is directly related to how the group views them. They look to the group as the authority.
2. The Self-authoring Mind
Someone at this level is able to distinguish the opinions of others from their own opinions. They may take the opinions of others into account, but they choose how much and in what way those opinions influence them. Rather than seeing their membership in a group as their identity, they see their membership in a group as part of their identity. They are able to see themselves as a more complex creature. Rather than always going with the opinions, values, and beliefs of the group, they are able to prioritize them, combine them, and create new ones, which enables them to be the author of their reality, and to look within them to find the source of internal authority. They are no longer anxious about being excluded from the group, rather they are anxious about falling short of their own standards.
3. The Self-transforming Mind
Someone at this level is more of a systems thinker. Where someone on the previous level is able to create their own value system, someone at this level is able to recognize that they have multiple value systems, that they are even more of a complex creature. A key ability at this level seems to be that we possess the ability to look at our frameworks, paradigms, and mental lenses, rather than choicelessly through these things. We create a bigger emotional and mental space that allows us to see our current state, not as a finished product, but as a current draft. This is important because when we view ourselves as a finished product, we regard all suggestions to the contrary as a blow to the self. But when we view ourselves as a current draft, we regard suggestions to the contrary as being valuable pieces of information.
Why it is so Important to Improve Our Mental Maturity
We can think about the importance of improving our mental maturity in two different ways: (1) overcoming problems, and (2) reaching goals or developing ourselves.
If we are having problems or experiencing friction at our current level of mental maturity, we have got to realize that resolving those problems or that friction is unlikely to occur at that current level. If we stay at our current level, we will be unable to activate the change and transformation to bring about the solutions to the frustrations we are currently facing.
Reaching Goals/Developing Ourselves
If we are not yet where we want to be, we have got to realize that there is a path that takes us where we want to go. But, that path will always take us to higher and higher levels of maturity. We just have to be willing to go there.
Generally, our first step in reaching goals and developing ourselves is to employ plans, improve our knowledge, and/or enhance our behavioral repertoire. When we do any of these things, we are focused on getting where we want to go at the same level of mental maturity that we are currently on. If this works, great! But, what we generally discover is that this rarely works.
Most agility development efforts primarily involve learning new skills, not unlike downloading new files and programs onto a computer. While this might give us greater range and versatility, our abilities to resolve problems and to grow will always be limited by our current operating system. Improving our mental maturity is how we upgrade our operating system.
Improving our Mental Maturity
When it comes to improving our mental maturity, there are two things to consider: (1) what generally prevents us from becoming more mentally mature, and (2) things we can proactively do to enhance our mental maturity.
What Prevents Us from Becoming More Mentally Mature?
The reality is that we do. We are the ones preventing ourselves from greater mental maturity, and all of the benefits that come with it.
Generally, we are comfortable on our current plane of mental maturity, and further, much of our identity is wrapped up in this current plane. So, any invitation to improve our mental maturity feels uncomfortable and scary.
For example, why is it that after doctors tell patients that if they don’t change (e.g., diet, exercise, stop smoking), they will die, only one in seven actually end up changing? It isn’t because they don’t care about dying, and it isn’t because they don’t want to make the change. It is because they want to ‘save their life’ as they currently know it.
When we are invited to change, our current “life” is put at risk. In fact, transformation suggests that we have to let our “old self” die, in order for our “new self” to arise. This is a scary proposition.
According to change experts Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey: “The implication is that we cannot succeed with adaptive challenges without recognizing that we are putting at risk what has been a very well-functioning way of taking care of ourselves.”
When we resist the calls for enhancing our mental maturity and respective transformation, our fear of change to protect “our self” leaves us blind to possibilities, prevents new learning, and constantly prolongs any anxieties or friction that we are feeling.
Overcoming this natural and instinctive reaction to self-protect and enhancing our mental maturity takes courage. We need to take action and carry on even when we are afraid and uncertain of what life will look like as our “new selves” because that is the only way to realize the new, higher level of functioning we truly want to attain.
Something We Can Proactively Do to Enhance our Mental Maturity
An indicator that we are improving in our mental maturity is when we can look at what before we could only look through.
To better explain this, let me introduce mindsets. Mindsets are the mental lenses that we look through to view the world. They dictate how we think, learn, and behave. They are the reason why two people can see the same situation, yet interpret it differently.
Our mindsets generally reside below the level of our consciousness. While we may not be aware of them, because we are looking through them, they are dictating nearly everything that we do.
Recognizing this, it suggests that if we want to improve our mental maturity, we must have the ability to look at what we are used to looking through. In other words, we need to become conscious of our nonconscious mindsets.
As we do so, our mindsets become less of things that control us, and more of tools that we can transform and employ to more successfully navigate our situations.
As we become more conscious of our mindsets, we become able to step outside of our own ideology or framework, observe the framework’s limitations or defects, and re-author better and more comprehensive ideologies and frameworks.
And, if we really want to push the envelope with our mental maturity: even in re-authoring better and more comprehensive ideologies and frameworks, true mental maturity is demonstrated when we recognize that our re-authored views will have its own limitations that will require eventual transformation once again.
In all, if we want to improve our agility, we must operate at a qualitatively higher level of mental maturity than we currently possess.
From about 2000 until 2013, Microsoft’s market capitalization hung around 200 billion and its stock price hovered around $26 per share. While a market capitalization of 200 billion is nothing to bat an eye at, Microsoft’s stagnation meant that they were losing ground to their competitors. Near the turn of 2014, it is safe to say that Microsoft was not primed for future success.
Since 2014, Microsoft has been on a tear and their market capitalization recently eclipsing $1 trillion, passing Apple, and becoming the most valuable company in the United States. Further, its stock price is now five times greater than it was during their stagnant period: $132.45.
Does Microsoft seem much more primed for future success now? Certainly!
What has been the difference?
Well, one obvious thing: a new CEO. During the early part of 2014, Satya Nadella took the helm at Microsoft. Since he has taken over Microsoft, he has focused on ensuring Microsoft has the characteristics that enable future success. This focus has clearly paid huge dividends, literally and figuratively.
What Organizational Characteristics Enable Future Success?
Step back and consider the industry in which your organization operates. Out of the organizations within your industry, some are going be highly successful 5, 10, 20 years from now, while others are going to be obsolete.
This leads us to two questions:
The Characteristics that Hinder Future Success
Among potentially many, the characteristics that hinder future success involve being short-sighted and change-resistant. The organizations that are short-sighted are so focused on figuring out how to be successful right now that they are unable to consider the needs of and opportunities associated with the future. The organizations that are change-resistant:
The Characteristics that Enable Future Success
One characteristic that you will not find among the characteristics that enable future success is current success! Just ask organizations like Circuit City, Blockbuster, and Toys ‘R’ Us. Being successful today does not mean that you will be successful in the future.
In fact, 52% of the Fortune 500 companies from 2000 no longer exist.
The characteristics that enable future success involve being future-centered and agile. Being future-centered does not mean your organization isn’t concerned with the ‘right now,’ rather it means that your organization recognizes that your current level of success is based upon how future-centered you were leading up to the ‘now.’ Further, it means that your organization recognizes that what might be working now, is not likely to be what will work in the future.
Being agile means being willing and able to quickly adapt to the changing market conditions. It is speed, nimbleness, and athleticism. Characteristics that fuel agility include:
How did Microsoft become Primed for Future Success?
When Satya Nadella stepped in as CEO of Microsoft, he quickly recognized that Microsoft possessed more of the characteristics that hindered future success than those that enabled future success. This became evident in one of the first meetings he had with his leadership team. In the meeting, a facilitator asked for a volunteer amongst the team, promising whoever volunteered to have an extraordinary personal experience. Nobody was willing to stand up. This led Nadella to wonder: “Why wouldn’t everyone jump up. Wasn’t this a high performing group? Didn’t everyone just say they wanted to do something extraordinary? … The answers were hard to pull out, even though they were just beneath the surface: Fear of being ridiculed, of failing, of not looking like the smartest person in the room, and arrogance. ‘I am too important for these games.’”
In his book, Hit Refresh, Nadella described Microsoft’s culture as: “Rigid. Each employee had to prove to everyone that he or she knew it all, and was the smartest person in the room. Accountability, delivering on time, and hitting the numbers trumped everything. Meetings were formal. Everything had to be planned in perfect detail before the meeting…Hierarchy and pecking order had taken control and spontaneity and creativity had suffered as a result.”
Recognizing these limiting characteristics, Nadella made it his mission to change the culture at Microsoft. In fact, in his book, he continually states that the ‘C’ in CEO stands for curator of the organization’s culture, and is the CEO’s most important role.
So, what did Nadella focus on to ensure Microsoft developed the characteristics that enable future success?
Priming Your Organization for Future Success
The solution for priming your organization for future success is the same as it was for Microsoft’s.
As we makes shifts in our mindsets, we develop the characteristics that enable future success.
Specifically, there are four shifts in mindsets that we need to make.
As an organization shifts from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, it, and the employees within it, will focus less on looking good and more on continually improving the organization’s impact on and value to those it is serving.
Nadella quickly realized that the negative culture at Microsoft was because of a fixed mindset. One way that he helped Microsoft make the shift was by putting the following on all employee ID cards: “Know it all to Learn it all.”
As an organization shifts from a closed mindset to an open mindset, it, and the employees within it, adhere less to tradition and become more willing to embrace innovation and new ideas. Also, this shift necessitates a change from communication and information going from the top down to communication and information coming from the bottom up. Such a change allows for the fostering of psychological safety, which is the #1 factor that drives top-performing teams.
Nadella knew that if Microsoft was going to be the spontaneous and creative company that it once was and that it needed to be, there needed to be greater open-mindedness and psychological safety. Thus, Nadella sought to break down structures and policies that prevented empowerment.
A shift from a prevention mindset to a promotion mindset requires that the organization develop a clearer purpose and destination they are shooting toward. This primes the organization for future success in two ways:
One of Nadella’s first priorities was to develop and evangelize a new, clear mission statement: “Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” What a great mission statement! It gets leaders and employees to be forward-thinking, causing them to naturally ask the question: “How do we/I do that?”
As an organization shifts from an inward mindset to an outward mindset, it, and the employees within it, view employees and customers less as objects or numbers and more as people of value.
To help make this shift, Nadella has emphasized inclusivity, stating “Inclusion happens when…you are showing up, you are being an ally, a mentor, you are really creating, through your everyday actions, a more inclusive environment…that’s the journey we’re on…[its] very, very exciting.” He has even developed a mobile empathy museum.
Is Your Organization Primed for Future Success?
Knowing the foundational role mindsets play in organizational agility and future-readiness, now the question becomes: Does your organization possesses the mindsets and characteristics required for future success?