The mindset individuals bring to their work plays a profound role in determining their personal growth and influencing the trajectory of their organisations. Hence, the ability to cultivate a mindset that seeks out opportunities or chooses a ‘possibilities mindset’ over a ‘constraints mindset’ is a valuable asset.
“Those who adopt a ‘possibilities mindset’ possess an optimistic view and inspire others to think creatively and step out of their comfort zones. This mindset encourages continuous ideation and creativity, making it an inspirational force that motivates people to explore beyond the ordinary,” believes Pallavi Poddar, CHRO, Fenesta Windows, DCM Shriram. Therefore, a ‘possibilities mindset’ primarily emphasises the importance of having a broader perspective.
“The initial step is to cultivate strong conviction within oneself. Whether one is an individual or a leader within an enterprise, this foundation of conviction is essential when it comes to adopting a mindset of possibilities.”
Shailesh Singh, CHRO, Max Life Insurance
However, people are generally used to starting things with a ‘constraints mindset’. This clan of people tends to outnumber those with a ‘possibilities mindset’. “Individuals generally begin by imposing limitations, such as the thought that certain tasks or ideas are unattainable. They tend to prioritise their efforts with a focus on firefighting and short-term objectives,” opines Poddar.
The prevalence of a ‘constraints mindset’ within an organisation not only impedes the personal growth and development of its members but also stifles the organisation’s ability to thrive in an ever-evolving environment.
“A ‘possibilities mindset’ signals a willingness to look for solutions and options, even when faced with challenges. In contrast, a ‘constraints mindset’ is primarily focused on acknowledging boundaries, limitations and what isn’t working, often involving externalising blame onto others,” opines Shailesh Singh, CHRO, Max Life Insurance.
When a majority of individuals are predisposed to focussing on limitations and obstacles rather than exploring opportunities, it creates an atmosphere of caution and conservatism. This, in turn, can inhibit risk-taking and innovation, as employees may be less willing to experiment or propose new ideas for fear of encountering resistance.
“In areas where growth is a primary focus, individuals in leadership positions may hesitate to take risks. This risk aversion can lead to frustration among their followers. Even subordinates may unintentionally hinder the boss’ exploration of new ideas,” enunciates Emmanuel David, senior HR leader. This dual dynamic often occurs because when subordinates try something innovative and encounter challenges, the leaders may respond by implementing logical reasoning, processes, or regulations, which can create hurdles.
“Adopting a problem-solving mindset is a pivotal strategy for shifting from a mindset of constraints to one of possibilities. It involves embracing a broader viewpoint, recognising the importance of problem-solving skills and understanding that constraints can often be overcome with the right approach and tools.”
Pallavi Poddar, CHRO, Fenesta Windows, DCM Shriram
An excess of ‘constraints mindset’ may hinder organisational growth and adaptability. It can make individuals more resistant to change and more unwilling to adopt new technologies, strategies, or approaches, even if these changes could potentially benefit the organisation.
Another factor that sometimes leads to a ‘constraints mindset’ is having expertise in a certain field or domain. “When individuals achieve a high level of proficiency in a particular domain, they tend to approach problems within that domain in a fixed and habitual manner. Such expertise and experience leads one to view challenges through a specific lens,” points out Poddar. Given their experience, they start believing that a particular target may not be achievable due to the constraints they know very well exist.
“Functional expertise can, to some extent, restrict possibilities because people tend to rely on familiar methods and may not have explored the true extent of their abilities to bring about extraordinary outcomes,” asserts Singh. Hence, leaders must transition from a foundation of functional expertise to embrace the broader realm of enterprise leadership. Their aim should be to guide and enable others to achieve shared visions and organisational goals.
While Poddar and Singh agree that expertise limits one to thinking with a constraints mindset, David believes that expertise is most valuable when it is accompanied by a proactive mindset and a readiness to explore new horizons. “Even if people possess the expertise and understand the available options, these become less meaningful if they’re apprehensive about taking risks. In such a scenario, the value of that expertise diminishes,” opines David.
“One strategy I’ve been implementing in recent years involves engaging in conversations, particularly coaching conversations, to assist individuals in this transformation. By first clarifying their purpose and then focusing on their strengths rather than being fixated on their weaknesses, significant changes can be observed at the individual level.”
Emmanuel David, senior HR leader
However, people can use several approaches or methods to transition from a mindset of limitations to one that embraces possibilities when confronted with new ideas and challenges.
Speaking from his own experience, David shares, “One strategy I’ve been implementing in recent years involves engaging in conversations, particularly coaching conversations, to assist individuals in this transformation. By first clarifying their purpose and then focusing on their strengths rather than being fixated on their weaknesses, significant changes can be observed at the individual level.”
“The initial step is to cultivate strong conviction within oneself. Whether one is an individual or a leader within an enterprise, this foundation of conviction is essential when it comes to adopting a mindset of possibilities,” advises Singh.
Agreeing to the same, Poddar asserts, “Adopting a problem-solving mindset is a pivotal strategy for shifting from a mindset of constraints to one of possibilities. It involves embracing a broader viewpoint, recognising the importance of problem-solving skills and understanding that constraints can often be overcome with the right approach and tools.”
Organisations must effectively articulate their vision and purpose and inspire people to rally around them and generate a powerful surge of energy. “Instead of hindering progress, one becomes the force that aligns everyone and propels them forward,” points out Singh.
Clarifying an individual’s purpose and helping them recognise their strengths, along with identifying areas of potential growth and biases, empowers them to realise what was previously deemed impossible. It’s a transformative process that can leave individuals pleasantly surprised by their own capabilities and potential.
David cites an example— “From childhood, the prevailing advice is usually focused on improving weaknesses. Rarely does anyone suggest harnessing strengths. For instance, if someone scores poorly in math, the typical response is to enrol them in math tuition. Conversely, if they excel in subjects such as English, there’s rarely any consideration for providing specialised coaching to foster their talent.”
He believes that the consequence of this approach is that instead of individuals being appreciated for their inherent abilities, they may often be compelled to pursue areas where they may not naturally excel.