Brad Keywell


What Is Your Mindset?

You’ve heard it over the years from parents or perhaps from teachers: “you can do anything you set your mind to.” It’s interesting that the reference in the saying is literally about “setting” your mind.

Our society seems to accept the proposition that we all have a choice of how to “set” our mind – we have a choice of how to think and we have a choice of what to think about. I strongly  agree with this proposition.

Mindset has many definitions, including “the established set of attitudes held by someone,” “an attitude, disposition, or mood,” “an intention or inclination,” and in Britain the dictionary defines mindset as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation, especially when these are seen as being difficult to alter.” Ideas, attitudes, intention, inclination – what do you bring with you when you arrive at a moment in your day, a moment in your life? This is mindset.

Mindset is a choice. A choice that you must make.

I’ll never forget one encounter with my doctor a few years ago. I went to get my annual physical, and my doctor said something that will remain with me for a long time – perhaps (hopefully) forever. We were talking about exercise and nutrition, and his simple words are reverberating in my head. After reminding me that, although I may feel like I’m in my early 30s, and at the time, I was actually deep into my 40s, he said, “Every day from now on you are making a choice – getting healthier and stronger, or less healthy and weaker. There is no such thing as a day of stagnation – you are either improving or declining.” In other words, he was talking about my mindset, that a proper framework would guide me to appreciate the opportunity (and need) to exercise and eat healthy every day. And that ignoring this mindset and saying “I’m too rushed to eat healthy, I’m too busy to exercise, I’ll do it tomorrow” is actually an affirmative choice — a choice to get worse (rather than simply staying the same).

The distinction of inaction being an action is powerful— It implies that there is no such thing as “no opinion” or status quo. It implies that each of us is dynamic in our essence, and that every person and every element of our world is constantly evolving. It implies that our actions (intentional activity, or perhaps unintentional lack of activity) have deep consequences, even if we trick ourselves into thinking that we are just continuing the status quo. It implies that there is a choice to be made, and you must make it.

Mindset. Setting your mind. Setting your mind with the framework of attitudes, intention, and inclination – this is the frame of our lives, and it comprises all of the triggers that can set us up for success (or doom us to failure).

As an entrepreneur, I’ve been faced with countless choices. Most of my career has been building and deploying technological solutions, in which there are choices to be made and the right choice makes all the difference. So for other tech entrepreneurs, please consider these choices:

Manager’s Mindset vs. Maker’s Mindset

Managers tend have a mindset of shuffling the deck and playing politics, of telling instead of teaching or coaching, and of preferring meetings and explicit structure (for the sake of setting the structure as a source of power and a claim of progress, only to then create drama from the structure itself) over the act of doing. 

A maker's mindset asks “what can you do with what you know?” A maker's mindset encourages people to create their own paths, build confidence, collaborate actively and, in doing so, foster creativity. A maker's mindset is about using structure only as necessary to optimize what gets made, to have meetings only as necessary to refine and optimize what gets made, and to look at colleagues as valuable collaborators who add essential value to the journey of making.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, dives deep into the distinction between fixed and growth mindsets.  People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that their capabilities are set—as though these abilities were out of their control—and they worry about whether they are adequate and obsess about comparing themselves with other people and their status (with a belief that they have something to prove to themselves and others). People with a growth mindset tend to believe that capabilities can be developed, improved, and expanded, and appreciate that greatness only comes from dedication, practice and perseverance. A growth mindset tolerates risk and failure, while a fixed mindset avoids risk and its accompanying frustration.

“Lift You Up” (a/k/a Nurturing) Mindset vs. “Pound You Down” (a/k/a Confrontation and Fear-based) Mindset

When I did a fireside chat at Uptake with Ray Lane, who for 10-years was the President of Oracle (and who is on our Board of Directors), we spoke about Ray’s management style as contrasted with that of Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle. Ray is famous for his nurturing style of management, stressing empowerment and enablement as the key elements of helping a person achieve their peak performance. 

This sounds like, “I hear your idea, and I think you could improve it if you considered these facts…” and “I think you can do better, because I’ve seen you solve much greater problems than this – can you give it another shot to find a more effective approach before we make a decision on this.” Ellison, on the other hand, is notorious for screaming at people, using hostile confrontation and public humiliation as tools of his trade. Former employees tell stories that include phrases like “Are you the dumbest person to walk the face of the earth,” and “Are you really as stupid as you sound.” While both Lane and Ellison expected full effort, full integrity, and full dedication, Lane assumed the best in people until definitively proven otherwise, while Ellison saw the worst in people until proven otherwise.

Destiny Mindset vs. Obstacle Mindset

A few years ago, I was told the story of the Golden State Warriors, and one of the key moments that changed their mindset from focusing on the obstacle (i.e. “how are we ever going to beat the Cavaliers and LeBron, how are we ever going to beat the San Antonio Spurs and Tim Duncan”, etc) and instead arriving at their destiny and then working backwards. 

The formative moment? When each of them received a ring, and put on the ring, and focused on the ring, and told themselves how sweet it was to be wearing a ring, and then to visualize that the right that they were wearing on a day in 2014 (they did not win the NBA Championship until 2015) was the NBA Championship ring. They were asked to visualize that they had won the championship, which then led to the conversation of HOW they were able to win it, rather than IF they would ever be able to win it.  By focusing on the goal as their destiny, they were able to then work backwards to understand (and visualize, and digest, and then own the need to act on) all of the work and effort that led to their destiny, and their minds were freed from the sense of impossibility of a huge obstacle between themselves and a championship.

Scrappiness Mindset vs. Compliance Mindset

Professor Tim Woodman, Head of the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at Bangor University, interviewed top performers across a wide variety of fields, and discovered that their success was not about happiness. Rather, while some had happiness as a byproduct, the essential element of success were goals that corresponded to a sense of value and meaning both for themselves and also for the colleagues with whom they worked. And further, Woodman discovered that common across the enterprises, teams, and people with the greatest achievements were setbacks – difficulties and challenges both personal (divorce, death, or another impactful setback early in their life) and professional (losses, chaos, confusion, and failed projects and challenges early in their journey), and that these challenges were the source of their scrappiness. This scrappiness – or, as I call it, resourcefulness – led to a lessening of a sense of limitations, and led to a lessening of fatigue (whether physical or emotional), and an increased sense of resilience and perseverance. 

A compliance mindset, on the other hand, is about “doing just enough to check the box” and defining success as simply meeting a criteria and fitting into an arbitrary definition. Compliance can then lead conformity, which then leads to an existence focused on fitting in with someone else and measuring yourself based on their guidelines (rather than your own potential and capabilities).

I’ll end with some words from an athlete with one of the great mindsets in the history of sport. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player to ever play the game (not just my opinion, but widely held), captured the mindset of the champion with three observations:

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

I challenge you to be aware of your mindset. To consciously understand the ideas, attitudes, intention, and inclinations that you bring to your workplace, your personal life, and your relationships. I further challenge you to choose a mindset to create, to grow, to nurture, to thrive on purpose, to focus on your goals, and to be  scrappy every step of the way. (And, oh yeah, to have lots of fun and to celebrate when something great happens.)

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© Brad Keywell 2021