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Audit your mindset!

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The appeal comes from mr. Intellectual Capital, renowned professor Leiv Edvinsson. A message he has repeated for years. What does he mean? Is he talking about me? About us?

The answer is yes, he is indeed talking about you – and me. And the message he is conveying is ‘it’s time you pull yourself together’. The response he gets – most of the time – is sceptical looks and crossed arms, indicating that the guard is up, the ‘fort’ is unassailable. Because it cannot possibly apply to me, right?

The moustached professor from Cambridge, later Lund University, reminds me of a merry Santa Claus – albeit without the beard. The similarity is primarily on the outside. Although generally softspoken, smiling and amiable – when he talks about mindset, there is lightning in his eyes: ‘We are out of step with ourselves – and the world’ he observes. Even more so in 2022 than last time I quoted the Professor – in 2016 (see Digitalization’s biggest challenge (in Norwegian)). ‘You have more resources and opportunities than anyone else in the world, but use few of them’, Edvinsson observes about Norway and Norwegians. Not at all in line with our own views. Thus his strong insistence: Audit your mindset.

How bad can it be? What does he really mean? Books can be (and have been) written about this – the essence being the following: To critically question why we think and act the way we do. Is it out of old habit, laziness, convenience or because it is actually right/best/optimal? A book title that has been following me since 2007 comes to mind: ‘What got you here, won’t get you there‘. By now an old acquaintance – with a clear message. If we could remember and practice Marshall Goldsmith’s message on a daily basis, we have made ‘audit your mindset’ a matter of course.

Professor Leiv Edvinsson

It is ironic that most of us seem to be far more open to changes privately than professionally. For example, more than 50% of Norwegian car buyers these days prefer electric cars. Most of them for the wrong reason (economic, not environmental), but still a very significant change. What is interesting though, is the change in attitude in the wake of the shift. Instead of the constant race to set new speed records – to work, to the cabin, to mother-in-law or the nearest mall, we are now concerned with reach. Less pressure on the accelerator because we ‘cannot wait for that stupid, slow charger’. In a few short weeks most car owners experience a change of attitude. Suddenly it’s not only OK to save energy, it becomes important – and feels good. And the two minutes we could ‘save’ by constantly occupying the left lane, become less important.

The same thing happens to customers of the most digitalized local utilities – those offering an app through which we can follow energy consumption, prices, statistics and more almost from one second to the next. Real time. One of them, Tibber, has managed to make energy consumption engaging. It makes us want to understand the numbers and optimize because it’s easy to understand and easy to see results. Hold off the laundry and delay charging the car until the price peak is over.

A third close example also has to do with energy, albeit indirectly. 10 years ago, many of us held our first tablet. Finally, the ‘invisible computer’ was reality (see Donald Norman’s legendary book from 1998), a computer without a user manual, with an extremely low threshold for use. But not only that: it was always on. No start-up time, no waiting, always available, and with many of the same capabilities as the PC / laptop / desktop. Most of us adapted extremely fast. We chose to do ‘stuff’ on the tablet, even when it was more cumbersome by ‘old’ standards. The new standard was ‘always available, always on’. We found ourselves sitting at the desk, next to the PC, still choosing the tablet because it appeared faster and easier. Eventually, simpler authentication reinforced the trend. Fingerprints and facial scans removed annoying codes, passwords and dongles. The tablet (and the phone) became our implicit 2FA and made life easier. And safer.

I literally faced the power of this new standard a couple of months back. I needed a new laptop for a speaking engagement, and chose Apple’s new MacBook Pro. A performance marvel, but the point isn’t performance: The laptop works like a tablet. It’s always on, the welcome screen is instant when opening the lid. The fingerprint sensor fixes the login-challenge (2FA) and the battery lasts forever. Just like the tablet. And without much conscious thinking, my work habits changed again. Having the laptop easily accessible on my desk, I tend to choose it over the iMac because it’s easier. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s extremely fast.

Now, what does this have to do with energy? Everything. The new level of energy-efficiency drives our change of attitude and habits. For once, being ‘hybrid’ is exclusively positive. The laptop’s processor is a hybrid – with a smart mix of ‘Harley-type’ and ‘ebike-type’ cores where the latter keep the wheels running on minimal energy most of the time, while the former kicks in with plenty of horsepower when needed. Occasionally and seamlessly. Just like in the smartphone and the tablet – without us ever noticing. A new developmental approach (rapidly becoming the new normal) where processors grow upwards from (smart-)phones and tablets instead of downwards, from server to desktop to laptop and so on, which has been the traditional approach. This new generation of silicon – the dynamic hybrids – are heading for the data center, with the potential to revolutionize the energy footprint while keeping, maybe even improving, performance.

Examples flourish – many of them fascinating in their demonstration of how easy we – as individuals – embrace new ways and ditch old metrics when the benefit is obvious and ‘cost’ is low. The ‘cost’ typically being the challenge involved, what we have to forgo or leave behind in order to move ahead. And this is where Edvinsson’s message hits target. As soon as we move into the professional realm, most of us come forward as true sceptics. We resist change, question new ways, procrastinate reorganization efforts, become increasingly creative in our arguments about why changes that affects us directly are really bad. Which brings us to the point of the day so to speak – the attitude, the mindset. How willingly we press the reset button when the context is ‘correct’ and non-threatening. The magic – in simple words – lies in letting oneself be exposed to alternatives. Open up to opportunities, be curious – want the change.

This is the essence in Edvinsson’s ‘audit your mindset’ message: Nurture an open mind instead of the opposite. And here’s our challenge – yours and mine – on a professional level: Intellectually we see, know and understand how quickly things change in a digital world. Still we resist planning and goals that take this into account. It’s not only contradictory, but extremely expensive and detrimental to our own careers.

Few know what the world will look like 1-2 years from now. No one can make reliable predictions 3 years ahead. Nevertheless, we continue with plans and projects, clear goals, rigid change regimes and rigid project models that extend both 5 and 10 years ahead. All based on old metrics and models. In short – we plan for eternity and forget that it is less than 3 years away. From huge construction projects to complicated software systems – they’re stipulating deliveries many years down the line assuming that requirements then will be exactly like they were last year. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Of course they fail. Of course we fail. We know exactly what the outcome is. Higher cost, more time, more changes, failed expectations, endless adjustments.

By now, the sense and urgency of Edvinsson’s appeal is obvious. Of course we need to audit our mindsets, synchronize with reality. Accept that tomorrow is very different from yesterday. And that the only long term goal we can safely accept is dynamism. The ability to adapt to changing requirements – continuously. Freeways, satellites, software, buildings, healthcare, … Actually the essence of Darwinism.

Edvinsson is right – we need ‘a new mindset’. It is not difficult, but demanding. It is also an energy-driver in itself. Not to mention driving the economy…

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