Dweck (2017, p. 15) suggests that “when you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world—the work of fixed traits—success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other— the work of changing qualities—it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself”. The findings from this research demonstrated that, when considering an AI organisational future, there was a material difference in energy, attitude, image and embodied response depending on what mindset participants held. This difference was reflected in both the initial response to a scenario and the future image that corresponded with that base response.
To deepen the analysis using Reason and Bradbury’s (2008) ‘third person’ (community insights), the thematic analysis from both mindset perspectives in column 2 and 3 have been synthesised into column 1. This lead to five key findings being identified that are applicable to entities embarking on the longer term design and deployment of AI and automation strategies (Table 2).
Table 2 above will now be explored in detail in what follows.
Finding 1—compassion and authenticity are required for healing and enacting personal power
In each workshop setting, the depth of feeling expressed in this research was rich in detail and tended to follow the change curve originally developed from work related to grief and loss by Kübler Ross (1969) and later adapted to organisational settings (Parker and Lewis 1981; Miller 2011, p. 29). Initially in the fixed mindset, respondents expressed “shock”, “denial”, “anger”, blame/bargaining. Whilst in the growth mindset, respondents expressed thoughts that reflect later stages of psychological adjustment, more to do with adapting, testing, acceptance. Adapting, testing and accepting would reveal participants being able to “see themselves in a new state”, think outside of their current industry experience and “be clear on how to ultimately move forward” to a new future (whether that be a new role, organisation, or a completely different life goal).
Husain (2017, p. 169) suggests that “today, our sense of identity is…intrinsically tied up in our ability to produce economic output”. AI is designed to achieve some form of advantage, more often connected to power, position or economy, for organisational shareholders (Farrow 2019). AI replacing human workers brings out strong feelings, that require a compassionate and authentic response in the adaptation approach. Organisational systems, particularly in western contexts, have been designed for survival, competition and productivity. Human workers may be involved in changing the business, but often are disempowered from the process of change. Often when a threat or a traumatic event occurs, people typically experience an automated response (fight, flight or freeze). This response varies based on the personal experience, the ecology of support, their power in the circumstance, the resources the person has in and out of work, and the adaptive capacity of the individual. Being in the growth mindset provided a high sense of “relief”, and strong feelings of “excitement”, “happiness” and “optimism”.
Given this first workshop experience was an individual (first person) reflection activity and not a collective one, responses demonstrated an internal experience, story, or world view. The extrapolation (where all participants were able to shift state just by embodying a growth mindset) demonstrated that, within minutes, participants could be open to a solution and flexible thinking regardless of the personal power they held. Mindset adjustment became a key contributor to individuals’ maintaining a sense of personal power and being able to anticipate the future and be ready for it. The depth of feeling expressed suggests that any organisational adaption approach to AI needs to make space for the expression and healing in individual responses. AI is affecting work and will bring uniquely personalised impacts and traumas in some contexts for those people who are either unsupported or are unable to adjust to the mindset and skills required as systems and indeed society adapt.
This research demonstrated that participants were able to shift their mindset states with appropriate collective support and framing. Empathy needs to be enmeshed into any adaptation approach. Both empathy and adaptive capacity (including mindset awareness and resilience capabilities) need to be embedded in not only the people leading the adaptation to AI, but designed into the adaptation implementation approach itself. Considering the entrenched power structures and systems in organisational and societal settings that typically are designed to benefit the few, this more enabling adaptative approach will be a new capability for leaders to master and factor into the ecology of the organisation (Farrow 2019).
Finding 2—Mindset embodiment enriches the ability to anticipate, plan and action future scenarios
Miller (2018, 2) describes “the future does not exist in the present, but anticipation does. The form the future takes in the present is anticipation”. In times prior to turmoil come a unique moment for scenario development and anticipatory readiness. Those who practice risk management and business continuity processes realise a risk can be an unrealised threat or an unrealised opportunity. The research demonstrated that those participants who are in fixed mindsets tend to default towards considering future scenarios as a threat, with a high percentage of responses indicating their immediate response was a reactive “fear response”. Some participants expressed an “inability to engage” in any form of anticipation or active planning to mitigate the possible “impacts on employment” or degradation of “self-worth”. Within a growth mindset, participants could show the ability to engage and adapt and responses became increasingly “optimistic” and “solutions focussed” and rich in positive imagery.
Dweck (2015, p. 10) states that “her research has shown that people’s mindsets play a significant role in their achievement”. Thus, this research has supported Dweck’s (2015) view. The insights generated revealed a link to enriching the ability to anticipate and plan for longer term aspirations. Futures literacy enhances participants’ adaptive capacity. Miller (2018, p. 2) suggests that “using-the-future, for different reasons and in a variety of ways is called Futures Literacy”. Futures Literacy, as a dedicated area of capability, has been part of the futures research field for some time, and made progress through a Global Futures Literacy Network facilitated by UNESCO (2019). UNESCO (2019) defines futures literacy as “important because imagining the future is what generates hope and fear, sense-making and meaning. The futures we imagine drive our expectations, disappointments and willingness to invest or to change”.
Expanding futures literacy and adaptative capacity are essential in the complexity in which we are living (Miller 2018). Today’s experiences provide an opportunity to grow futures literacy and therefore our anticipation and planning to respond to possible futures, through mutual and inter-sectorial learning opportunities. The fixed mindset data demonstrated the worst case view of the future (death, powerlessness, hopelessness), but it also offered valuable information on where organisational leaders and the individual themselves can respond and lesson the likelihood of the worst case scenario taking place. To have the ability to make plans, people need to progress through their pain as a first reaction towards a psychological space where they can “be open” and “ready to research and plan futures”.
Miller (2018, p. 2) suggests that “people’s fictions about the later-than-now and the frames they use to invent these imaginary futures are so important for everyday life, so ingrained and so often unremarked, that it is hard to gain the distance needed to observe and analyse what is going on”. The workshop process enabled participants to reach into the future and generate collectively combined future images and actions using Reason and Bradbury (2008)’s ‘second person’. The growth mindset, combined with the layering up of the insight, broadened the lens from the individual viewpoint to a more collective or shared future. Birkinshaw and Ridderstråle (2017, p. 31) suggest that “we need the ability to work collaboratively, so that our fragments of knowledge can be combined effectively with the knowledge of others”. 13% of participants expressed “willingness to assist and guide others in the adaptation journey” to the shared and positive future state.
Finding 3—Mindset selection affects activation of higher order motivations and needs.
Maslow (1943) created the concept of humans having a ‘hierarchy’ of base needs. The model starts at the base level of physiological needs (water, shelter and food), before moving progressively to higher needs of safety or security (from emotional and physical harm), social or love (for belonging, friendship and acceptance), esteem (including autonomy, achievement, status and recognition) and the need for self-actualisation (to transcend or live one’s passion or potential). Maslow’s (1943) work suggested that people are motivated to satisfy these needs. If the lower needs are threatened, it is more difficult for people to maintain achievement of the higher order needs.
The workshop data indicate that, within a fixed mindset, participants tend to focus on responding more to the lower levels of the Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs (food, shelter, safety, security of self and family). Whilst in the growth mindset, these base needs are not mentioned, and instead the focus is more on “learning”, “growth”, “living one’s passion”. These growth mindset responses were more attuned to the higher levels of Maslow’s (1943) needs of relationship, esteem, self-worth and self-actualisation. Growth mindset reframed the anticipation of the future. Thus the perceptions and images being described were of a higher order in nature as if the base needs were “taken care of”.
Personal adaptation often goes through a period of discomfort. Changing habits and patterns means that people are adjusting and readjusting. In our ‘normal’ state, we are comfortable in our roles; we are competent; we are habitual and form attachments with the people we work with. Moving into a combined AI and human working relationship will impact on our attachment to our workplace. In a fixed mindset, a change to an attachment, makes people feel that their base needs (and attachments both social and physical) are threatened.
In some cases, workshop participants held on to the ‘old future’ or the cultural norms or the memory of the past, with sentimentality or nostalgia (Ramos 2004). Those attachments were in relation to the “income received”, the feeling of security, and the known social and political dynamics of the human dominated organisational setting. In a growth mindset, there was instead a suggestion of “confidence” and “guarantee of income due to taking opportunities”, participants could consider the potential outside of “the boring or dehumanising work”. People could “live their passion” (akin to Maslow’s self-actualisation), build a “brighter new future” and have time for creativity and innovation. Without the guarantee of systems such as a Universal Basic Income (UBI) or other social or economic safety nets, base physiological needs are challenged. In adaptation processes, there will need to be a degree of acknowledging that people’s current attachment to lifestyle and income will be threatened, so alternative forms of economic and financial arrangement will need to be considered.
Finding 4—Open and willing frames of mind enable shared learning and insights
The deeper and wider the change, the greater the amount of learning is required. Davenport (2018, pp. 189–190) suggests that “projects employing cognitive technology are not just about technical change, but also about changes in organisational culture, processes, behaviour, and attitudes”. Therefore, the willingness to challenge existing scripts and have the energy and growth mindset to rewrite new narratives is paramount. Dweck (2017, p. 141) suggests that in “creating a growth-mindset environment in which people can thrive, involves presenting skills as learnable…and giving feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success”. The findings of this participatory research, combined with the themes around opportunity identification and self-belief, support Dweck’s (2017) notion: they reveal that mindset choice and embodiment of that mindset will be either a catalyst or inhibitor for transformation and adaptation.
Wildman and Inayatullah (1996, p. 729) state that in anticipatory learning processes, “we consciously and unconsciously use our ‘maps of the world’, i.e. our mental paradigms or mindscapes, to help make the world real for us”. The data provided by the workshops, particularly showed the ability of participants to shift state quickly, and then be able to maintain that state with the right environment and modelling from the workshop leader (in this case, the researcher/facilitator). Participants demonstrated the ability to stretch to the polar opposite ends of worst case (fixed mindset) and best case (growth mindset). This demonstrated that the ability to ‘stretch and shake off’ a more negative, biased, paralysed state was possible for the vast majority of participants (note especially that 5% of the participants were not able, however, to demonstrate the fixed state even for a few minutes). Adaptive capacity is a key aspect of resilience and anticipatory futures literature (Bussey et al. 2012). Bussey et al. (2012, p. 387) state that “adaptive capacity is historically specific. It is a measure of the human ability to respond to threats and stimuli in the social and natural environment”.
Each participant has their own ‘map of the world’. A person’s own personal learning journey has included learning and growth experiences at home, school, in some cases university, and in the workplace. One of the key findings of this research was the variance in intensity of desire and willingness (that mindset shifts caused) to embark on learning into an AI organisational future scenario. In a fixed mindset, despite only 7% of data entries specifically mentioning learning, most comments related to finding an excuse not to learn. Comments such as ‘I’m too old to learn’, ‘this is all I know’. The correlating images related to winding pathways, a person locked in a box, and comments related to people being ‘weighed down’. The growth mindset data were the third most responded-to theme (13%) after feelings of happiness and strong belief in self. Images related to a positive reflection, a smiling person working with a robot, positive messages about growth, and images of reflective practice.
Polak (1973, p. 5) describes that ‘the future not only must be perceived; it also must be shaped”. A key theme expressed via the growth mindset was an anticipation for, willingness and ability to plan and prepare for the future, for not only the self but also for the wider community. The gloom, danger and doom in response to the future-based scenario, when in a fixed mindset, would have implications for the approach to adaptation and the layers of learning required to enable an actionable future to be nurtured. Growth mindset in these workshops appear to enabled more positive feelings and energy, which was evidenced by increased motivation, positive noises such as laughter and participants working together. In the researcher’s opinion, this could be felt across the workshop settings and seemed to bring greater output in both identifying opportunities as well as participatory problem-solving. Dweck (2017, p. 21) suggests that “People in growth mindset don’t just seek challenge, they thrive on it. The bigger the challenge the more they stretch”.
Finding 5—Adaptation is affected by what lies beyond the edges of the organisation and into society
For-profit organisations and corporations are often described as having agency and personalised power (Ramos 2004). Legal structures often create a ‘hard edge’ to an organisation; thus, the people in that organisational structure (whether it is distributed or centralised) contribute to making the organisation sustainable and profitable. Contemporary economic and market forces and competition structures reinforce these principles further. However, to those participants, especially in workshop 2 from a local government context, work, family, life and community were expressed as enmeshed concepts, unable to be separated (Bateson 2018). The insights from this research suggest that adaptation to AI in an organisational setting, does not just affect the individual worker in that organisation, but flows into the other ecosystems of which that person is a part. 9% of responses, whilst in fixed mindset, had an immediate personal concern (outside the boundaries of the organisation in particular) to impacts on stability of home, family, social connection, health and lifestyle.
There was no mention of family specifically within the growth mindset dataset. However, 5% of responses connected to fulfilling a broader community or global purpose. A broader contribution to a broader purpose included consideration of impacts on ecology and biology. The suggestion that an impact on humans is an impact on nature, and vice versa (Bateson 2018). A change to one part of the system flows to other dimensions. AI will has the potential to profoundly affect how people work, interact, and live together. Organisational adaptation approaches, to be truly sustainable, need to consider the impacts outside of the walls of the organisation to levels that are “transcontextual … liminal or the space in between” (Bateson 2018, p. 79). These contexts, identified by participants as part of their third person discussions, are summarised in Fig. 5 that can be used as a lens for impact analysis.
Adaptive capacity has a strong relationship to concepts such as individual capacity, personal endurance and individual or community resilience. According to Bussey et al. (2012, p. 387) “adaptive capacity (is) determined by the level of social and financial capital and if low, their resilience is compromised as a result”. Exploring mindset perspectives has created transparency to a participant’s broader ecosystem: that is, “I am not ‘just’ a worker in one organisation. I am a person, worker, parent, friend, neighbour, provider, living being, part of nature, part of the planet.”
Any effect on an individual person in the organisation automatically has an effect on the systems of which they are part and the subsystems that they then interact with societally. A classic “butterfly effect” in accordance with chaos theory where one change that seems immaterial has a large effect elsewhere (Bateson 2018). Impact analysis and environmental scanning tools often do not consider this. Figure 3 shows why adaptation to AI may for some be challenging. Exploring both mindsets have made this contextual illumination possible. Each context would impact on the willingness and ability of a person to engage with the adaptive process in a sustainable manner.