Do we need a digital mindset?

Guest contribution by | 28.11.2019

For some time now I have been advising small and medium-sized enterprises on digital transformation and Work 4.0. Many entrepreneurs* often equate digitisation with technology: There is an opinion that processes, services and communication with customers must either be completely digitised or simplified using technology. As a result, apps are being developed, social media budgets increased and chief digital officers hired to develop digital products.

As a result, many companies believe they are digitally well positioned. As part of my consulting work, I conduct interviews with executives about the digital transformation process as well as workshops with employees. The question of how successfully employees assess the transformation process is a recurring one. The answers to these questions led me to the question of whether a special, possibly digital mindset might be needed to deal with the changes brought about by New Work and Work 4.0.​

Mindset – attitude – way of thinking

The term mindset can be translated and interpreted in different ways:

  • way of thinking,
  • attitude,
  • philosophy of life or
  • mentality.

The mindset determines how we filter information. It is shaped by the experiences we have had. For example, if we had a little blackout during a lecture at school and our classmates laughed at us, it can happen that many years later we still consider ourselves a bad speaker and avoid further opportunities to take the floor. A mindset works against the background of our imprints like a filter that determines how we perceive our environment, but above all our own possibilities.

Under the dichotomy growth mindset vs. fixed mindset, motivational psychologist Carol Dweck researches how people deal with defeats and what causes some to seek unimpressed challenges while others give up. Her studies tend to classify people into two categories:

  • Those who belong more to the fixed mindset category are likely to regard certain abilities as innate. If they fail, they lack the necessary aptitude from their point of view.
  • And those who belong in the growth mindset category and are firmly convinced that they can achieve anything as long as they make enough effort, train or learn. This fundamentally positive and action-oriented attitude not only leads to more (self-generated) success for people with growth mindset, they also tend to be more stress-resistant because they believe they can change their situation.

In a study on positive feedback or praise, it was also found that the effect of praise can depend on the respective mindset.

Mindset and praise

Carol Dweck investigated the behaviour of primary school children in two groups who had to solve tasks. The participants of one group were told that they were very smart after solving the problems. In the other group, however, the efforts were praised. The mindset of the pupils was then recorded by agreeing or disagreeing with the following statement: “Intelligence is something fundamental that cannot really be changed”.

Those children who were praised for their intelligence agreed with the statement by a large majority and in the further course of the experiment selected those tasks which did not cause them any difficulties. They avoided the chance to learn something new. Those children who were praised for their efforts denied the statement about consistent intelligence and supported this opinion by continuing to choose challenging tasks to grow and learn from.

Dweck’s studies show that children whose intelligence is praised are much more likely to develop a fixed mindset, while those whose efforts are praised tend to develop a growth mindset.

This tendency in adolescents arises from the realisation that our brain tends to align feedback from outside with our inner images, in other words, a match of self-image and external image is energy-efficient for the brain, so we tend to adjust our inner images. The so-called Rosenthal experiments¹ already show this: In these experiments, children developed in a certain direction solely on the basis of the (possibly subconscious) feedback of their teachers, after the teachers were told at the beginning of the school year that the respective exchanged group of pupils were the “one- or six-candidates”. In the experiment, the (formerly) good pupils were at the lower end of the performance scale at the end of the school year, while the (formerly) loose candidates were suddenly among the best in their class.

While people with fixed mindset avoid defeats by avoiding challenges, people with growth mindset are used to losing. But they don’t give up so quickly and tend to reach their goal all the more often. They are open to new ideas and consider mistakes to be opportunities to learn something.

Dweck’s studies with young people also show that the mindset can be developed and changed through interaction and activity.

Mindset and digitisation

In the age of Work 4.0 and (future) new “colleagues” in the form of artificial intelligence, the question arises whether one’s own intelligence can still be sufficient in comparison to AI. Employees with a fixed mindset must permanently perceive themselves as insufficiently talented in the face of AI and will have a correspondingly negative attitude towards the topic of digitisation & AI.

So how can we succeed in developing our employees in such a way that they train a growth mindset and accept the challenge of lifelong learning and new work?

Different dimensions play a role from my point of view and should be strengthened by praising the effort in this direction:

  • Innovation orientation – New ideas do not emerge by chance. It is good when I am constantly on the lookout for new ideas and discuss them with my colleagues and customers.
  • Creativity is something you can train. You just have to do it. Every problem can be solved with appropriate “guard rails”. New perspectives bring even more creative solutions. Diversity matters.
  • Acceptance of temporary uncertainty – In order to try something new, I have to accept the risk. I have to endure the uncertainty for a while before results show.
  • Perseverance – There are no problems, only opportunities for learning. To learn and solve problems again and again requires discipline and stamina. However, this is less a skill than the environment in the form of routines that help us learn and people who support us.
  • Pragmatism – When I want to change something, I just start. It is better to take the first step than to wait for others. What I can change, I take responsibility for.
  • Ambition – I want to do it better than before. I am never completely satisfied. I set myself goals and work to achieve them. I change my approach iteratively and adapt it regularly to new situations.

Similarly, an organisation can provide conditions that allow development towards the six dimensions. This allows individuals to develop a growth mindset so that they can more easily meet the challenges of digital transformation and the associated changes in organisations.​

And what’s the answer?

If one defines a digital mindset in the sense of Persobloggers.de² as the sum of behavioural patterns, based on an open and curious attitude towards state-of-the-art technologies and the claim to want to solve every challenge digitally first, then the question “Does a digital mindset need a digital mindset” cannot be answered unequivocally with YES.

Employees who can cope with the changes brought about by digital transformation are likely to recognise that digitised processes have a massive impact on their work, their lives and their communication. Nevertheless, the six dimensions mentioned above should be the focus of attention, which favour a growth mindset and thus promote the ability for lifelong learning. Combined with the permission to really take the time to learn (e.g. handling new apps) (e.g. through a Learning Friday or similar), change can be successfully mastered.

Consequently, a digital mindset is not absolutely necessary, but at least a growth mindset with the corresponding innovation orientation, creativity, ambition, pragmatism and stamina as well as openness for new things in the form of an acceptance of uncertainty.


Notes (in German):

[1] Rosenthal-Effekt oder die sich selbsterfüllende Prophezeiung, retrieved 24.11.19
[2] Digitales Mindset nach, retrieved 25.11.19

Other sources:

Barbara Hilgert has published more articles in the t2informatik Blog, including

t2informatik Blog: Use Working Out Loud to develop competencies for agile work

Use Working Out Loud to develop competencies for agile work

t2informatik Blog: Scrum as a basis for “New Learning”

Scrum as a basis for “New Learning”

t2informatik Blog: Knowledge Sharing is power

Knowledge Sharing is power

Barbara Hilgert
Barbara Hilgert

Barbara Hilgert lives between Hamburg and Lübeck and works in Berlin. She is an agile coach, advises small and medium-sized companies on the topics of compatibility 4.0 and digital transformation and has a lot of know-how in the areas of team development and (New) Learning. “Sharing knowledge is power” is not only her life maxim, the development of this mindset is also the goal of her consultations and qualifications: Training is one of the core competencies for the future of work and an important prerequisite for collaborative networking and “new learning”.