Innovation starts inside your head. It is a way of thinking and behaving. The ability to innovate is a uniquely human skill that is in your possession but it needs to be practiced and honed and powered by the right mindset. To drive more innovation in your business, we need to understand how mindset can prepare and condition your mind to innovate, and how it puts you in the right frame of mind to uncover new growth strategies and competitive differentiation.

Mindset can be described as a belief system, your mind's personal operating system that steers your actions and drives your behaviors. Be aware that your mindset colors what you see and how you respond to challenges. It was formed over a lifetime of experiences and has created many unconscious habits and automatic response mechanisms. It is important to emphasize that your current mindset is the product of your choices up to this point. But, just as your previous choices built your current world view, so can new choices rewire the brain to see another world of opportunity and drive stronger behaviors of exploration and creation. Bottom line, our personal collection of beliefs is something that every one of us has the power to change, and in many ways that can enhance our ability to innovate.

Carol Dweck’s Mindset: the New Psychology of Success informs us, through extensive research, that we are mainly limited by what we think we can do and having enough creative confidence to explore new ideas. Her message is that 1) everyone has the fundamental ability to be creative and innovative, and 2) not everyone has nurtured these capabilities to the same degree. Dweck's decades of work as a Stanford University psychologist has uncovered that many people tend to exhibit either a fixed or a growth mindset. Fixed mindsets tend to avoid risk and challenges or rely on a narrow set of effective tools, while growth mindsets embrace challenges as learning opportunities and continually build up a wide-ranging repertoire of tools and approaches. What distinguishes top innovators is that they share a growth mindset. This subconscious mental model forms their attitudes, assumptions and beliefs about how the world works and enhances their creative responses. Dweck clearly documents that mindset can have a huge impact on how well someone can perform in their business life—and in their ability to innovate.

Bradley (Woody) Bendle, Director, Insights & Innovation at Collective Brands, in his blog post, The Innovator's Mindset, does a great job of breaking down and illustrating the growth mindset of top innovators and offers practical suggestions.

The main impediment to becoming more innovative has been that the mindset and skills needed for innovation are not as utilized or as widespread as the prevailing practices and rules that govern the mainstream business directives of the mature financial services industry. Most business leaders and business owners have been honing other important skills, building very successful state-of-the-art toolkits for and have been executing superbly on efficiency, control and driving waste and variation out of their businesses. The growing problem in this focus on efficiency, analysis, control and predictability is that they work particularly well in a stable environment which increasingly no longer exists. Innovation, on the other hand, is governed by its own laws, needs a different skill set and has completely different physics of action. Innovation is the other side of the coin to the efficiency sensibility and thrives on unpredictability, high variance and unstable, changing environments.  While efficiency is important, innovation, in an age of rapid change, is becoming more and more vital. That is the key message of Jeffrey Phillips, Senior leader at OVO Innovation, in his blog post in our Innovation Library, Innovation is Becoming a Core Competency.

So while innovation can be fed by external stimuli, energized by data, prodded by recognizing trends in the outside world, true innovation -- the ability to create new ideas that add value -- needs to be developed primarily as an internal thinking process and mindset that can be learned by all. And, as is true of any process or skill, innovation in your business can be nurtured and honed. The more you consciously practice a growth mindset and build innovation skills, the more natural it will become. The Innovation Skills section of our Innovation Library is full of great articles and other information that will help you explore exactly what those innovation skills are and suggest ways on how to develop them to become a more innovative thinker.

I will leave you this week with a set of recommendations from the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business Design Thinking in Business Innovation program on how to broaden your mindset for innovation.

"Your brain is designed to develop new circuitry, rewire itself based on new thoughts and behaviors. Here's how to get started:

1. Find quiet time every day for reflecting on what you are thinking and why?

2. When you find yourself in a fixed mindset, ask if it is coming from discomfort with change or fear of making a mistake.