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The German car manufacturer has reported that ‘it has detected a mindset in some areas of the company that tolerated breaches of rules’. Andrew Hill, the editor of the Financial Times, writes widely about it in his column (15 December 2015) and is inclined to praise the mindset approach, on the back of a book of the same title by Carol Dweeck, Stanford professor of Psychology, published in 2006 and apparently in the reading list of Bill Gates. Wow! It must be good.

I have a problem with mindsets. I’ve been a clinical psychiatrist for a third of my professional life and I’ve never seen one. Have you? What does it look like? What does it do? Is in your mind? Your brain? When people talk to me about ‘changing mindsets’ as a way to create change, I don’t know what they are talking about. I see behaviours, I smell behaviours, I can like them or not, reinforce them or not, scale them, copy them, ignore them, do something with them. But mindsets? No idea.

But if you know about mindsets, you can offer your services to VW because apparently this is what they plan to do.

So the problem was that there was ‘a wrong mindset in some parts’. Really? There were lots of people getting away with murder and behaving in a visible way. A set of behaviours was visible, exhibited, allowed and reinforced (by not punishing it). It’s behaviours. Concrete, plain, observable, tangible and smelly. Don’t blame ‘the mindset’. The label, actually, is not helping at all. It’s diverting the attention to something we are supposed to have deep in, stuck with it, and at the root of something. The mindset does not explain anything, simply reframes the problem by attributing it to a non existing entity.

If you have a kid with constant tantrums, shouting, moving around the house crying for no apparent reason, hitting and kicking his sister and running around like a mad kangaroo, it is pointless and useless to say that ‘he needs to fix his emotional instability’, let alone, ‘we need to change his mindset’.

VW should look at behavours, no mindsets (sorry Andrew Hill) and find the non negotiable ones that need to be reinforced by the group, in the open. Behaviours may look individual but they are mainly collective, copied from others (Homo Imitans, Viral Change tm)

Mindset focus is as un-focused as Barclays sending his traders to training on ethics in an UK business school, which is the equivalent to sending arsonists to a course on the dangers of fire. Cultures are nor created by training, but I am afraid next time we hear from VW we will hear about more training on something. Perhaps like how not to do stupid things.

Doing something wrong and getting away with murder is hardily a secret thing done by three guys and a computer. It’s behaviours. They create culture. It’s there, it was cultivated, there is no other way around.

But, by all means, if you ever find a mindset, please shout, I’d like to introduce myself.


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  1. Bill Wiersma

    Dr. Herrero–

    I happened to see you post today on VW/mindset. I get your point about the importance of behaviors.

    Apparently my experience is a little different than yours. In my consultancy we use mindsets to drive behavior. And we (and our clients) couldn’t be more thrilled with the results.

    And, no, I’ve never seen a mindset. But I’ve sure seen their impact.

    My two cents.

    Bill Wiersma, Author, The Power of Professionalism—The Seven Mindsets That Drive Performance and Build Trust

    • Leandro Herrero

      Dear Bill – Thanks for taking the time to comment. Really appreciated. I stress the argument of the invisible mindset to make the point of behaviours. In my world the chicken and egg starts with behaviours. In my bias I may be stretching too much the argument and I run the risk of supporting the implication that cognitive frames don’t matter, which is far from my intention. I have not read your book, but have ordered now. However for what I have read in comments and websites, we may have a semantic problem as well. Your 7 mindsets are very strongly behavioural based. Using your words, I would say – and you will understand that I am not playing funny semantics – that ‘I use behaviours to drive mindsets’. My chicken is the behaviour. Thanks for being in touch. I will read your wirtings with pleasire.

      People like yourself do a great work explaining the mental frames that drive particular outcomes. In my case, not dismissing that for a second, I start with which behaviours we need to see, regardless a mindest label behind.

      On the whole what matters is whether we make a positive difference to people and organizations and I am convince professionals like yourself do, big time.

      • Bill Wiersma

        Dr. Herrero–

        Yes, we are both desiring to make a positive difference to people and the organizations of which they are a part. And ,yes, I trust we are both succeeding.

        Yes, I believe strongly that you can use behaviors to produce mindsets. And, of course, the opposite is also true (chicken/egg).

        I believe that a mind-set = purpose + attitude. It’s part of the way one sees the world. Perhaps there’s a better way of describing it, I don’t know. What I do know is that clients/readers seem to ‘get it’. The book has more to say about this.

        I didn’t take exception to anything you said in your blog–not at all. I’ve read your blog (and books) for some time now and appreciate that you often challenge the reader. And I really like how you are unafraid to advance your point of view (I think that we as professionals are obligated to do so).

        Really appreciate your note and all you do.


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