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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

A Global Mind: evolving beyond tribal beliefs

‘What is my religion? All paths that lead to the light.’ Anon


One of the many joys of my life is that I have fascinating conversations on a daily basis. People tell me their stories…and I love stories!


The skill of eliciting great stories is to ask great questions but however good the questions or the technical skill of the storyteller, a great story ultimately comes down to the calibre of the actual content. When teaching ‘Storytelling in leadership’, I finish by inviting the group to create their ‘Story-bank’ around suggested themes of change, courage, failure/success, conflict resolution etc. I add: ‘Don’t be that person who had one extraordinary experience 20 years ago and it becomes their ‘war’ story: regurgitating it over and over again so it loses all relevance and vitality. Capture stories as they happen and become more conscious of the dynamics around you as well as your internal response to them.’


We do this by using the skill of ‘detached involvement’, the ability to be fully experiencing the moment and simultaneously connecting to our helicopter vision to make sense of what’s happening moving us forwards. I now know when I’m in the middle of what will eventually become a great story and this brings me courage and hope to keep going, however dark or challenging the path is.


But it has to be authentic: we cannot cut off from fully experiencing and retreat into our heads. This will not only rob the story of its energy, making it sound tired and stuck, but it will only create a good story, not a great one. The best fiction storytellers always connect to real feelings they have experienced, even if the content is not autobiographical. It’s why these stories speak directly to our emotions and hearts.


More recently, I’ve been adding to my Story-bank input: ‘Don’t just capture stories as they’re happening, create your future stories. Embrace your life and say yes to those ‘red pill’ experiences that you know will become great stories.’


This is very different. It changes how we live in the present, how we see our future and the choices we make to create the future we want: what we say no to as well as the yes. We widen our horizons, our minds and also our hearts. It can be terrifying to go consciously forwards with eyes wide open and it will demand great courage. This is the less travelled path into the unknown.


And yet the alternative is not to grow: to narrow our horizons and stay huddled in the familiar with an increasing fear of the unknown and suspicious of what is different and what…or who… we cannot control.


This ‘fork’ choice is a lifelong invitation. It is not enough to choose the red pill once and make it our war story. The forces of resistance to change are always greater and our personal evolution is not automatic: if we want to keep growing, we have to consciously make that choice over and over again, making the leap of faith into extraordinary adventures that will become equally extraordinary stories.  


So why am I talking about creating a life of great stories when the title of this article is about a Global Mind and evolving beyond tribal beliefs?


It is because one interchangeably creates the other.


What do I mean by a ‘Global Mind’? Let me first say what it isn’t. It is not about globalisation and creating a homogenised culture where everyone thinks alike. A Global Mind deeply honours, respects and celebrates diverse values, customs and rituals but it ultimately retains the best of these and courageously lets go of what no longer serves, i.e. what is not healthy for growth.


A Global Mind includes the characteristics of the ‘Growth Mindset’, a term created by psychologist Professor Carol Dweck who explained that those with a growth mindset see opportunities instead of obstacles, choosing to challenge themselves to learn more rather than sticking in their comfort zone. ‘This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.’ Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

The Growth Mindset has the following characteristics:

  • It has a deep trust that intelligence and talent can be developed i.e. learning is lifelong.

  • It knows it takes great effort to master a skill and welcomes the time and energy it takes to accomplish mastery.

  • It sees failures and mistakes as core to experiential learning on the path to excellence and success.

  • It welcomes feedback from others, seeing this as a valuable source of information to learn and improve.

  • It welcomes challenges: I am always excited when my unconscious preconceptions are challenged, and I realise I am responding from a fixed mindset. I know I’m in my fixed mindset because of my visceral response which is based on a tight and closed energy. So, I take a deep breath, dance through my fear-based resistance and open up to the new learning in front of me. My energy immediately shifts!

  • It is always inspired and heartened by other people’s success. Their success brings hope for our own.

In contrast the ‘Fixed Mindset’ is the belief that intelligence, talents and other abilities are innate and cannot change and evolve. It has the following characteristics:

  • It thinks in binary terms: either/or and does not understand paradox. It cannot tolerate ‘we are both’.

  • It has an exclusive focus on the desired outcome instead of the time and effort needed to secure it.

  • It does not enjoy challenges, being too afraid of failure.

  • It is overly reliant on other people’s approval and validation, what is called an ‘external locus of evaluation’.  

  • It blames others for mistakes or failures, getting caught in victim loop.

  • It is threatened and envious of other people’s success, an example of binary thinking, i.e. there is only a limited amount of success… and love!.. to go round.

  • It does not have an intellectual curiosity and passion for new learning opportunities and experiences.

A Global Mind has a growth mindset, yes, but there is another dimension beyond this that I’ve been grappling with for many years. My first conscious exposure to what it might be was 20 years ago when I started working at London Business School. I had arrived feeling very out of place. I had moved from a Senior Executive role as a change agent leader in the Public Sector and LBS was very intimidating. I felt very different and small.


And then I read a Harvard Business School article that changed my life: ‘Managers and Leaders: are they different?’ by the psychoanalyst Abraham Zalesnik.


‘Managers embrace process, seek stability and control, and instinctively try to resolve problems quickly – sometimes before they fully understand a problem’s significance. Leaders, in contrast, tolerate chaos and lack of structure and are willing to delay closure in order to understand the issue more fully.’


Zalesnik likened leadership thinking to the artist, bringing in the crucial characteristics of vision and imagination: ‘Leaders...develop fresh approaches to longstanding problems… Rather than focusing on structure and process, Leaders are active instead of reactive, shaping ideas instead of responding to them.’


I was being told that thinking differently was ok. Ten years after reading Zalesnik, I read another article that continued to bring me confidence, telling me that thinking differently was absolutely ok:


‘So was Mr. Jobs smart? Not conventionally. Instead, he was a genius. That may seem like a silly word game, but in fact his success dramatizes an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor…like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead.

... As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Einstein is, of course, the true exemplar of genius. He had contemporaries who could probably match him in pure intellectual firepower when it came to mathematical and analytic processing…but no one had the imaginative genius to make the full creative leap at the core of their theories, namely that there is no such thing as absolute time and that gravity is a warping of the fabric of space-time…Einstein had the elusive qualities of genius, which included that intuition and imagination that allowed him to think differently (or, as Mr. Jobs’s ads said, to Think Different.)’ The Genius of Jobs Walter Isaacson

Beyond my ever-growing confidence in listening to and training my intuitive intelligence and imagination, Zalesnik’s article brought me something equally as precious. Drawing on the psychologist William James's concept of once-born and twice-born personalities, Zalesnik wrote: ‘Leaders are 'twice-born' individuals who endure major events that lead to a sense of separateness...from their environments. That sense of separateness may be a necessary condition for their ability to lead.’


It was a moment of grace. It was the first time in my life that how I thought, felt and saw the world wasn’t wrong or bad but simply different. And if Harvard Business School thought it was ok then I was in good company! Reading Zalesnik gave me permission to trust myself and grow, knowing there was a world out there that I could connect with.


And so it has subsequently proved, finding my kindred spirits in the most unexpected places, a worldwide web of fellow travellers. We have more connection with each other than those from our original communities and we often have to leave our physical, emotional and psychological roots to find our real home, our true community. Read my article on The Hero’s Journey for more on this:


Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood


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