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The Power of the Innovation Mindsets

Innovation often has a focus on tools, techniques and approaches. And while these are important building blocks, there are more nuanced ones that accelerate the path to impact. One of these is the innovation mindset.  While we all have a “natural” mindset that is ours and ours alone, while it may be perfect for some parts of the innovation cycle,  it can be detrimental to others.

For example, let’s assume your natural mindset is “operational” – one that is all about rapidly solving problems, optimizing your system, and putting out fires.  Your team is in the earliest phases of an innovation project –  trying to more deeply understand the challenge.  An operational mindset will reduce the divergent and intentional wandering that the team must do in this phase. You, the leader, would be in unintentional conflict because of your natural mindset.

What to do?  With focus and energy, we can temporarily change mindsets to match the phase of work. This is not natural and requires intention. But the leader only needs to hold the unnatural mindset for short periods of time – just long enough to be in sync with the team. One technique I’ve been using is an innovation meditation.  It is designed to be used with a sponsor group, board or other advising body, and can be easily applied at the personal level as well.

It could feel risky to conduct a group meditation to the start of a leadership meeting.  However, what is the risk of having a super-smart group of advisors who are unintentionally advising with the wrong state of mind?

And so, below is the meditation.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, or even better, how it went adding in to your leadership practice.


The Innovation Leader’s Mindset Meditation
by Chris McCarthy

Take one deep breath and get comfortable in your meditative pose.  Eyes open or shut, whatever you are most comfortable with. (pause 10 seconds)

Take two more deep, cleansing breaths. (pause 10 seconds)

Breathe naturally, except for the cleansing breaths when indicated…or whenever you feel like.

The Four Leadership Mindsets for Innovation are the strategic, the explorative, the generative and the operational. Each mindset powerful in its own way.

The Strategic – the blue sky, the big picture, seeing beyond the horizon. Take a breath and ponder the sophisticated Strategic mindset. (pause 15 seconds)

The Explorative – the curious, the deepening, the pushing past boundaries, wandering and wondering. Take another breath and ponder the ever inquisitive Explorative mindset. (pause 15 seconds)

The Generative – the crayons, the paper, the scissors and glue. It’s the “what if”s and the “Aha!”s. The desire for alternatives. Take another breath and ponder the playful Generative mindset. (pause 15 seconds)

Ahhh… And finally, the Operational – perhaps the most common and most maligned of the mindsets.  The Devil’s Advocate, the realist, the analyst, the value-maker. Take another breath and ponder the brass-tack Operational Mindset. (pause 15 seconds)

The four mindsets: equal in need, equal in value, but rarely equal in expression.

Consider for a moment what is your natural mindset? (pause 5 seconds)

What mindset do you bring to this moment? (pause 5 seconds)

What mindset should you move to for today’s work? (pause 5 seconds)

Two more deep breaths. (pause 5 seconds)

We will each check-in with: “My mindset today is <fill in the blank>. And I am here and present.”

Open your eyes.

Who wants to go first?


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