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The power of mindset: Normative’s Matthew Milan

You may not be familiar with the name Doug Engelbart, but you’re unquestionably familiar with the ideas he espoused. In a now-famous 1968 demonstration, Engelbart spoke on nearly all of the elements of contemporary computing — word processing, hypertext, use of a mouse, and more. Prior to this demo, Engelbart was considered somewhat of an eccentric. Afterward, he was lauded as an innovator.

What changed?

In short, how Engelbart’s unique mindset was presented shifted his colleagues’ opinion of him. Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and co-founder of the Long Now Foundation, helped to shape Engelbart’s raw material into a presentation that was direct, convincing, and easy to comprehend.

Matthew Milan

This concept — the transformative power of shared mindset — was the focus of Matthew Milan’s recent talk for the 18F Design Presents speaker series. Milan, founder of and design leader at software design firm Normative, has fifteen years’ experience in the domain of emerging technologies, and he excels at translating complex information into compelling user experiences.

Milan visited 18F’s main office to share his insights into the importance of the shared mindset and how your team can develop its own. Here are some of his important takeaways:

Mindset, defined

Milan describes mindset as a “philosophical stance codified in the mind.” Much more than a simple set of rules, it can be thought of as a shared will: something that exists in the space between thinking and feeling.

Flexibility is key

One thing that mindset is not is inflexible. It’s not dogmatic or doctrinaire; rather, it’s mutable — shaped by research, lived experience, and shared insight. The traditional binary model of mindset includes the fixed mindset (which is more reactive) and the growth mindset (which is more proactive).

The good news? You don’t need to align yourself with one type of mindset or the other — you can take elements from both and design your own unique stance. As Milan said, “You can adopt parts of both perspectives.”

Follow the loop

Developed by U.S. Air Force colonel John Boyd, the OODA loop is the decision-making model used across a range of domains, from warfare to technology startups. It includes the processes of observing, orienting, deciding, and (finally) acting.

Of especial importance to mindset is the orientation stage of the cycle. According to Milan, “Your orientation draws on your cultural traditions, previous experience, analysis, and synthesis. It’s what makes stuff work.” In short, it’s your mindset. Knowing that your mindset not only impacts each decision, but is central to your arrival at each decision, can help you refresh your focus on it and cultivate it to align with your organization’s core values.

Theory of extended mind

Being mindful of the impact of shared knowledge can help you and your team more quickly get onto the same page, aligning your actions with one another and your organization’s ideals. Milan explained that our interactions with our physical space — putting up sticky notes on a whiteboard, for example — can help us extend our cognition, facilitating the development of a stronger shared mindset.

Cognition in the wild

Peter Merholz, co-founder of Adaptive Path, believes in the importance of mindset — even above other elements of the design process. In a 2009 blog post, Merholz wrote, “What’s more important than process is mindset. And when it comes to interaction design, that mindset is having empathy for and understanding your users.”

Though much time has been devoted to the study and codification of methods and methodologies, considerably less has been spent on mindset. While UX is the dominant design mindset (and has been for some time), Milan reminds us that it’s just that: one way of approaching design.

Crafting your own mindset

Is your team ready to reevaluate and refine its shared mindset? Take these tips into account:

  • Look to mindsets in the wild: Identify companies whose ideologies and impact align with your values, and learn as much as you can about their mindsets.
  • Model behavior and intent: Members of your leadership team shouldn’t just enact your organization’s values, but should verbally communicate them, too. Verbal repetition of your organization’s core values helps reinforce them and can keep your team on the same page.
  • Shift the language: If you’re looking to shift someone’s view on a topic, start by subtly shifting the language you use to describe it.

Ready for more?

You can watch the entirety of Milan’s presentation, including a Q&A, right here. And, as always, stay tuned for updates about our upcoming presentations.

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