You’re teetering on the edge of the precipice, exhausted, bleeding, one breath away from hurtling five thousand feet down into to the flaming lava pit of starving crocodiles, only clinging to the turf by the toes of your left foot, while still heroically fighting the glowering one-eyed behemoth towering over you. All you’ve got to fight the behemoth with is a trembling, pink, naked prefrontal cortex in one hand and an Inspirational Kitten Poster emblazoned with the cheery words “HANG IN THERE!” in the other.
The behemoth bends down and breathes one acrid, sulfurous, retch-inducing waft of boiling pitch at you as his gaping jaws open wide to engulf you, strings of spit clinging to his whale-sized incisors. No Inspirational Kitten Poster can save you now; and as you dodge the behemoth you topple backwards over the cliff….
If you are an entrepreneur chances are you’ve been in this position before, or close to it. And what did everyone tell you would save your day? Mindset.
“You need to work on your mindset.” they say. “It’s all about mindset. Every successful business is based on a winning mindset.” But friends, I am here to tell you that the word mindset is not the solution to your cliff-tumbling, but rather its cause.
If you redefine that ineffable something that “every successful business” is supposedly based on, you will set yourself up – today and for the long game. You will create a business that is responsive, supportive, sustainable, dynamic, rooted, engaged with its customers, true to its heritage and ultimately future-focused.
But what is so wrong with mindset, anyway? Let’s take it apart.
What do you think of when you think of “mind?” Something about your brain? Abstract thoughts? Something about being smart, or intellectual?
And what do you think of when you think of “set?”
Something settled, solved, arranged? Something that has been organized and decided?
Put them together and you’ve got mindset: abstract thoughts passing through a smart, intellectual brain that has been organized into a settled, solved, arranged, decided thing. Right?
But what do we as humans really base our choices and our actions on? What do those choices and actions really need to be for our businesses to prosper? Intellectual thoughts are only responsible for a tiny portion of our decision-making. Even though we like to think of ourselves as rational beings; we’re not. Numbers, abstract processing, details…are just the icing on the decision-making cake.
What really drives the choices we make and the actions we take is our limbic system. Not the “what” of things, but the “why.” The emotional response we can’t explain in words. “I dunno, it’s just a feeling I get.” is what really drives the show. As Simon Sinek points out, that’s why we affiliate ourselves with the companies we like, even if another company may offer superior goods or services. This emotional, primal self is what connects us with others and governs our behavior – not the “what” but the “why.”
What we need, as leaders, is not to be settled, solved, arranged and fixed, but rather to be attentive and engaged with our community – responsive, adaptive, listening to our clients. We need to define our business not on where we are, but on how to get to where we want to be. The only way we’re getting “there” is by continually responding to how our clients engage with our business. We need to constantly flow into where we are right now – so we can flow, not into what we know, but into what we don’t know.
In order to have a supple, dynamic, rooted business that engages in a supported and powerful way, we have to let go of “set” and instead engage with “flow.” We need to redefine “mind” as the whole sum of everything that compels us to choose and to act. The “mind” has to be the whole sum of our bodies, our brains, our emotions, our past and our communities. All these things together are how we receive a flow of information, process it and let it flow on its way downriver.
So, throw out the word mindset, and imagine mindflow. What does that look like? What does that feel like?
Imagine a beautiful day on a sparkling mindflow. The information gently flowing in from upriver, the warm midday sun glittering on its rippling waves as dragonflies lazily circle above. Your mind bank gently holding the information as it flows along, yet allowing the information to shape it, even as it shapes the information. Thoughts occasionally leap out of the information like flying fish and leaping bullfrogs; and sometimes the flow bumps up and around and over surprising rocks and sticks and twigs in the flow bed. Sometimes the mindflow twists and turns and sometimes it eddies into pools. Far off in the distance it continues on downriver under the heavy hanging boughs of the willow trees, accompanied only by the sound of the late summer cicadas.
You’re sitting on the bank, shaded by a green tree, your shoes off, your legs stretched out along the soft warm green grass, so lazy that you almost fall asleep. Then right before you do, you have the “Aha” genius moment that suddenly transforms your business and the universe forever.
If you can see all this using your mindflow, what other visions can you also see that will make your business and our world great?