Making creativity and innovation happen
Making creativity and innovation happen

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Making creativity and innovation happen

4.3 The importance of changing mindsets

The key to working effectively with both failure and constraints is your mindset.

Changing mindsets is a critical challenge when seeking to enhance awareness, understanding and acceptance of failure – both individually and within organisations. Living life – whether personally or within an organisation – too cautiously can lead to failure by default. Changing mindsets is key to overcoming this and dealing effectively with failure in order to support greater learning, creativity and innovation in organisations.

In their article, Changing Mindsets in Organisations, One Brain at a Time, Knell and O’Mara (2017) explore the way that growth mindsets – a concept first developed by American psychologist Carol Dweck (2017) – can help both individuals and organisations deal with challenges and adversity more effectively:

Your mind-set is the characteristic way you face challenges and adversity: as opportunities to learn and grow, even from failure (a ‘growth’ or ‘incremental’ mind-set), or by retreating to safety, and being wary of failure (a fixed ‘mind-set’). Mind-sets manifest themselves in how you talk to yourself (‘I can’t do that, because…’ or ‘I’d like to try that, because…’), and in your behaviour (going forward to the challenge, with a determination to learn), or avoiding the challenge because of fears about the stigma of failure. Mind-sets manifest themselves in underlying changes in brain function: growth mind-sets have a brain signature which reflects greater use of all the brain’s resources, relative to the fixed mindset.

(Knell and O’Mara, 2017, p.10)

Your mindset – and specifically a growth mindset – is consequently of critical importance when approaching working with failure. Given that both failure and constraints are an inevitable part of life, the real challenge lies not in avoiding them but in working with them to ensure the best possible outcome. Key to these is the development of what American psychologist, Carol Dweck, called a growth mindset. Thinking a little differently may make a lot of difference to your creative potential.

Box 2 The paradox of choice

When it comes to creativity and innovation the interplay between choice and constraints is quite subtle yet very important. In this podcast, Laurence Knell of the Open University discusses the Paradox of Choice and the way in which constraints can guide and support our creativity and innovative thinking.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 1
Skip transcript: Audio 1 The paradox of choice – failure and constraints

Transcript: Audio 1 The paradox of choice – failure and constraints

Hi, my name is Laurence Knell. I’m an associate lecturer with The Open University Business School.
Have you ever sat down for dinner in a restaurant and, despite the wide range of delicious options on the menu, found it impossible to choose one and instead ended up ordering the same thing you might always order?
Or perhaps you have considered changing mobile phone plans but found the range of potential alternatives so overwhelming that you simply gave up and chose to stay with your current provider, even if you are failure sure it is more expensive than other options?
If you can relate to either of these examples you might have been the victim of what the American psychologist Barry Schwartz labelled the Paradox of Choice.
While an abundance of choice might superficially seem like an inherently good thing, the problem is, as Carlin Flora (2004) warns: “People faced with too many options are likely to throw up their hands and not bother—even when a lot is at stake.” In other words, an excess of options and choices might lead to paralysis and indecision – paralysis by analysis, if you will.
Yet, more than just relating to how we make day-to-day decisions such as what to order for dinner or which mobile phone plan to choose, the paradox of choice also highlights a key reason why the absence of constraints or limits can actually block creative thinking and the emergence of new and innovative solutions.
The thing is, having too many choices may sound like a luxury; but being spoilt for choice can make it harder to choose. Iyengar and Lepper’s seminal research into consumer behaviour found that “although having more choices might appear desirable, it may sometimes have detrimental consequences for human motivation”.
To explore this further, let’s consider a real-life example from the world of cinema of a situation when the shackles of constraints were removed and unfettered freedom (in other words, choice!) prevailed. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well!
Unless you are a dedicated film buff you may never have heard of the 1980 film Heaven’s Gate. Directed by one of the hottest names in Hollywood at the time, Academy Award winner Michael Cimino, Heaven’s Gate was released to much expectation and excitement.
Yet what should have been the crowning achievement of an already glittering cinematic career ultimately led to disaster. As Joe Queenan wrote in The Guardian:
“This is a movie that destroyed the director's career. This is a movie that lost so much money it literally drove a major American studio out of business… This is a movie that defies belief.”
So, what went wrong?
Although dogged by troubles throughout the production process, the challenges facing Heaven’s Gate go much deeper than that. Indeed, the story of Heaven’s Gate is first and foremost a lesson in what can go wrong in the absence of reasonable constraints on choices such as budgets, timelines and project deliverables. Rumour even has it that due to the lack of constraints and effective management, by day 6 of filming the project was already 5 days behind schedule!
The thing is, neither boundless freedom nor boundless choice are conducive to creativity and innovation but can in fact have the opposite effect. In the absence of these constraints, Cimino and his team struggled to make effective decisions.
So how then does an excess of choices impact on decision making and, consequently, creativity and innovation?
Chernev, Böckenholt and Goodman (2015) identified four factors which are most important for predicting how an excess of choice might impact on decision making. Specifically:
the difficulty of the task and the number of constraints; the complexity of the choices available; decision-maker uncertainty about the benefits of various options; the overall aims of the decision-making process.
In order for worthwhile innovation to thrive, we might need to consciously look at limiting the choices available to us. Doing this can help frame our thinking in more effective ways, improve the quality of our decisions and ensure we avoid the paradox of choice.
End transcript: Audio 1 The paradox of choice – failure and constraints
Audio 1 The paradox of choice – failure and constraints
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In the next session we will consider how you can improve your problem solving and critical thinking skills.


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