Brain Food: Be Creative. Be Brave. | Part V

Keeping Up: Positivity and adopting a “growth mindset,” a necessary precursor to adapting to change
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Posted June 17, 2020

A step toward adapting to the pace of change is to adopt a growth mindset versus maintaining a fixed one. Like the Apple ad campaign from 1997 that encouraged us to “Think Different,” reframing long held assumptions or points of view on an issue opens us up to the possibilities of being more proactive in dealing with change. It is also an exercise in empathy since changing your point of view necessarily means you shift from an egocentric position to seeing something from the position of the other.

In the book “Mindsets,” Carol Dweck explains that “in a poll of 143 creativity researchers, there was wide agreement about the number one ingredient in creative achievement. And it was exactly the kind of perseverance and resilience produced by the growth mindset.” Finding creative solutions to the challenges of engaging guests in a digitally mediated future will put the “fail fast” mantra to the test.  Generating ideas (and lots of them) quickly will be a necessity for success. Broad associative thinking, where various disciplines coalesce, heightens the possibility for different ways of thinking and provides the opportunity to activate creative triggers, which enhance the likelihood that moments of innovation will occur.

A growth mindset creates space to ask “what if?” This includes the questioning of traditional assumptions and thought process trajectories that take you back to the same well where one generally draws the same water. According to Dweck, a growth mindset is about believing that people can develop their abilities. Natural talent and well-honed skills are indeed an asset, but they alone will not allow for sustained long-term success. Developing a growth mindset is hard work. You can’t sit back and expect natural talent will move you along the path of achievement. Adopting a growth mindset includes a willingness to see that when traditional strategies and methods of getting something done are not working, a new path and commitment to doing the hard work necessary to change are also required.

I sometimes think about the story of the Luddites, how they battled the pace of change and how it might have turned out if they had fought less and future-casted more. They had every right to be concerned. Their world was being upended by technology and, in the end, there was little they were going to do stop it. I once heard that anger was an emotional response to a perceived injustice. And so, their tactic of resorting to violence and the destruction of machinery was perhaps an understandable reaction to the anger fomented from suppression, abusive work environments, depressed living conditions, poverty, food shortages and low wages. In the end though, it didn't achieve the results they hoped for. Property was destroyed. People died. And the weaving industry was forever changed by the introduction of new technologies. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering” (thank you Yoda for the wise words).

Fear has real effects on the body and mind. The fear response in intricately tied into the fight, flight, freeze mechanism encoded into our neuro-pathways.  The work of Steven Porgess on the “Poly-vagal Theory” has suggested that in moments of high anxiety or fear we actually can’t hear some sounds such as consonants in spoken language. According to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, who is renowned for her work on the power of positive emotions, in the face of negative emotions our peripheral vision is reduced. 

She has determined that positive emotions literally change the ways our bodies and minds work. Positivity, which does not mean the absence of negative emotions, can change the very nature of who we are. This can be a fundamental, physical shift at a cellular level that alters the trajectory of our lives. In the case of the Luddites, their focus on the negative consequences of change narrowed their worldview making it impossible to see what may have been lying just outside their direct line of sight. There in the periphery may have been the opportunity to embrace change and mediate a future state for their industry.

What if instead of fighting the pace of change with huge hammers (called the Great Enoch) that left machinery in ruins, they had put to work the collective knowledge of the weaving industry that they had amassed for years while building their trade? What if they worked with the technology advancements and found ways to leverage their well-honed skills and deep knowledge in concert with the advancing technology? What if they could have looked beyond their fear to the future? What if despite their fears about the onslaught of technological change, they had the courage not to go to battle but to stay centered and change their mindset towards a positive outlook? Chances are that creativity an innovation may have flourished and they would have played an instrumental role in crafting the future of the weaving industry in a way they could not have imagined.

No one gets there alone. Which, if the idea of change frightens you, is good news because there is support in crafting a creative path. There is a field of experts in any domain upon whom we rely for validation that our acts of creativity and innovation are of a value to the culture.

I am not talking about the thumbs-up “likes” of a social media following who provide the fickle, overrated validation that so often drives the relentless churn of content creation pushed into the digisphere. Even though these mavens of the media machine may have their 10,000 hours of practice that, by creativity researchers’ standards, would qualify them as being experts in their field, I am talking about the experts whose creativity and innovations have influenced the socio-cultural fabric of cultures.

The value of adopting a growth mindset is that it provides the openness needed to invite opportunities for creative exploration. It is generative rather than restrictive. People who adopt a growth mindset don't live in a deterministic world. They thrive in a generative emotional ecosystem that supports expansive growth and a greater sense of free will.

In Carol Dweck’s TED talk titled “The Power of Yet,” she illustrates the brain activity in students with fixed and growth mindsets as they were confronted with an error when solving a problem. Growth mindset students showed activation across the brain. Multiple functional areas lit up as they went to work engaging deeply in solving the problem. The growth mindset students set to work processing the error, correcting it and learning from the mistake. The fixed mindset students, however, showed a lack of engagement and diminished brain activity. They were stuck and didn’t exhibit the curiosity to understand why.

Because of the sensibilities attributed to this new generation, they are often characterized as emotionally fragile and perhaps not up to the task of change in a quickly moving digital future. However, when you change the point of view about how they are reacting to present circumstances in socio-cultural change, world politics, climate change, gun violence and other factors that shape their environment, it is no wonder that they have a unique world view. While they might not always align with my boomer mindset, it is incumbent upon previous generations to better understand how a host of factors have changed the ways they interact with each other and those around them, what they value and their expectations. When I see the students from Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School organizing the “March for Our Lives” in Washington, D.C., after 13 of their classmates and four teachers were gunned down, something tells me that these students are not as fragile as some would like to make them out to be. When we see the organizing of and participating in protests to stand up against institutionalized racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white police officer, something in my gut tells me that the Generation Z are not pushovers who will stand idly by while injustice against black lives remains entrenched in American society.

The larger challenge may be more about institutions and businesses being able to adapt to this emerging workforce as the world of digital engagement speeds on by. This new generation is “woke.” And this sense of empowerment is shaped by their facility with digital media creation, a skill developed from working within the digisphere where stories travel at the speed of light. They are not so much interested in “searching for new lands,” as Marcel Proust once wrote, but they are definitely “seeing with new eyes.” Eyes that are wide open and willing to call out BS when they see it.

The task at hand for the establishment is not to get the emerging generation to adapt to what has been or for a younger generation to shape up and get in line with a previous worldview, but for the previous generation to realize that their world has been usurped, that their point of view may be irrelevant in an emerging digitally immersive, socio-cultural context.

To remain in a relevant relationship with this new cohort of experience seekers will mean that previous generations will have to adjust to the new world view rather than having Gen Z negate the reality of their world experience to fit into one that has risen, fallen and is fading into the past. This is equivalent to the Luddites trying to slow the progress of the Industrial Revolution by smashing machines under the cover of darkness.

Gen Z as a whole is fast moving (even more so than millennials), hyper aware, deeply digital and experience based. Keeping up with this generational contingent of new consumers will require a paradigm shift in thought from business leaders of a previous generation. Those who are of a fixed mind set, whose rigidity and lack of openness to change keeps them holding tightly to outdated ideas and practices, may follow a similar path of the Luddites and become a historical footnote rather than a lasting force of change. A lack of creative insight and willingness to embrace change will keep them held by fear-based inertia while the world shifts rapidly to the next transformation in digital experience. Retailers and shopkeepers who adopt a growth mindset, and open themselves to a world of new realities, will have a fighting chance – agility and speed will be among the determinants of success.

David Kepron is formerly the VP - Global Design Strategies – Premium Distinctive Brands at Marriott Intl., responsible for the strategic design direction for Westin, Le Meridien, Renaissance, Autograph Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels and Gaylord Hotels. He is also the founder of Retail (r)Evolution, LLC and NXTLVL Experience Design, LLC. In his latest venture, NXTLVL Experience Design, Kepron brings years of retail and hospitality design expertise to the making of meaningful customer connections at brand experience places around the globe. His multidisciplinary approach to design focuses on understanding consumer behavior and the creation of relevant brand engagement moments at the intersection of architecture, sociology, neuroscience and emerging digital technologies. As a frequently requested speaker to retailers, hoteliers and design professionals nationally and internationally, David shares his expertise on subjects ranging from consumer behaviors and trends, brain science and buying behavior, store design and visual merchandising as well as creativity and innovation. David is also author of “Retail (r)Evolution: Why Creating Right-Brain Stores will Shape the Future of Shopping in a Digitally Driven World,” published by ST Media Group Intl. and available online from ST Books. @davidkepron; www.retail-r-evolution.com.