What is a 21st Century Mindset?

This post is a work in progress

21st Century

We are in the 21st year of the 21st century


In decision theory and general systems theory, a mindset is a set of beliefs, assumptions, methods, or notions held by one or more people or groups of people

The mindset or beliefs that I am concerned with are those held by people accountable for what we have been calling knowledge work since Peter Drucker coined the term in 1959.

I generally think of a closed mindset and an open mindset.

Closed or 20th century thinking - plan driven, iron triangle of cost, time and quality (or scope in some cases) decided before the work is handed to a project manager with no flex in any regard, team likely to be outsourced or an IT team, project rather than product thinking, not user centred and testing done at the end of the project when it is likely that no identified issues will be resolved.

Open or 21st century thinking - Purpose/vision/goals, discovery built in to understand the problem space and the current way that people respond to the challenge or need, multi disciplinary team ideally with leadership from someone who understands the users of the service, user centred with frequent research sessions with users of the service with all learning feeding back into the team to build things to learn from.


Some of my thinking while writing this:

  • Need to mention Carol Dweck and Fixed vs Growth
  • According to Sébastien Ricard writing for Forbes

    "The key indicator is that a knowledge worker "thinks" for a living instead of performing physical tasks. Other indicators may include the ability to
    • Develop new products or services.
    • Solve complex problems.
    • Handle complex mechanisms autonomously.
    • Focus on quality over quantity.
    • Work relatively independently."
  • My experience of working in knowledge work is that often the roles are not so autonomous & independent. Decisions are often made before work is passed to the people who will undertake it.
  • My theory is that a '20th century' mindset is the belief that if we plan well enough and execute the plan we will be successful. We have all seen high and low profile failures using this approach. The biggest concern that I have is when I see certainty that something will work. I characterise this as a closed mindset.
  • An open mindset requires us to learn before we decide or plan, to be curious and open to things not working in the way we expect them to
  • Successful teams believe that we need to have a purpose/vision/goal in mind, we need to understand if something already exists or if not how people achieve the things we want to provide a service for and what their needs are. We also need to support the goals of the organisation. We need to be curious, learn and iterate, prove that something works with small incremental change and no big bang. I characterise this as an open mindset.