(Individual) Survival Mindset

Carol Dweck talks about the power of a “growth mindset” in the context of mindsets that are centered around “fixed versus growth.” Designer Nigel Holmes once visualized these two mindsets in an infographic:

Explanation virtuoso Nigel Holmes’s visualization

This connects directly to the anti-fragile framing of Nassim Taleb. Because in essence, a learner is always anti-fragile. A learner is someone who refuses to let themselves, and most importantly their teammates, down. A learner-type can do great things for their team if they choose the path of servant, or mentor, leadership when doing so.

But I’ve been thinking about how many institutions today have folks who will whisper to me, “I just need to make it to retirement, and then leave this problem for the next generation.” It’s not a good look, if you ask me …

Let me call this “(individual) survival mindset” — which is about:

How can I slow down the decay of what I’m managing so that I can safely jump to the next phase of my life with minimum wear on my psyche and body? Because I didn’t make the accrued problems over the past <insert relatively long timeframe>— and my past stewards didn’t make the necessary fixes for the future, so why should I?

—Psyche of the leader who does not choose to digitally transform their business

I think (individual) survival mindset is a sound strategy for … survival. That’s why it’s so prevalent. It’s what makes it hard for newcomers to succeed in any large organization. That’s because there’s an aggregate effect of (individual) survival mindset that tends to dominate. It looks like it’s about “us” but it’s often just about “me.”

People who have been in an organization for a long time are able to do two things that a newcomer is incapable of achieving:

1/ They have optimized how to personally do less work by forming alliances with colleagues that are particularly effective at getting things done. Because they have found how to conserve energy and resources, they have both discretionary time and budget to do things a newcomer cannot.

2/ They can operate as silos because the silos have found ways to cooperate. And being a silo means it is a place of comfort because you feel protected. To operate from a sense of being protected makes you more likely to want to defend yourself and your silo.

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That said, when it comes to a team’s survival and it’s more about (team) survival mindset, it morphs into something really beautiful. Because it’s not about one’s own survival, but about something much greater than oneself.

The will to survive is about surviving together with the underlying hope of thriving together. Because what’s making it to the end of a story without friends to celebrate with?

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When I lived in Silicon Valley, I was struck by how there was so much optimism — the idea of “(individually) surviving” wasn’t the topic du jour. There was a growth mindset everywhere — which to outsiders to SV they might have deemed to be a little “unrealistic,” but I found it positively intoxicating. At the same, I found that the Silicon Valley folks would make fun of those who had the “(individual) survival mindset.” The startup people would often make fun of the end-up people.

Yet I find it ironic that many growth mindset Silicon Valley-ish startups wouldn’t mind being acquired by an end-up. And at the tail-end of their startup’s evolution, many of them can switch to a survival mindset too. So, I think the survival mindset isn’t something to villify. It’s just … human nature! You just want to remember which version of it is domating.

Survival mindset comes in two flavors: individual and team. The former is meh, and the latter is 💯.

Another way to look at this was shared by @propcazhpm:

And love this related Tweet pointed out to me by Wendy Johansson:

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