Growing pains? Developing a path to the future

Rich Whitehouse – Creative Director

In her TED Talk The Power of Believing that You Can Improve, Professor Carol Dweck discusses ways to think about “a problem that’s slightly too hard to solve.” 

This phrase struck a chord with me. As a species, it feels as if this is what we now face: climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, energy crisis, food poverty… I could go on. We appear to be surrounded by pressing problems that, on the face of it, are just too hard to solve. And, in an era of instant gratification where we’re always looking for the quick fix and the hack, not one of these complex uber-challenges has a fast, simple and cheap solution.

So how should we respond?

Dweck conducted research to observe how students respond when given problems to solve that were purposely just beyond their abilities. She found that the exercise split the group into two camps. The first set realised that extra effort would be needed and, feeling that their intelligence was up for judgement, refused to engage with the problem in the first place. They would actively run from difficulty. Interestingly Dweck found that this had nothing to do with the student’s level of intelligence or talent: it was purely their mindset, which was fixed. “If I can’t solve it now, I’ll never be able to solve it”. 

By contrast the research also identified a group of students with a different, more flexible attitude – students who recognised their abilities wouldn’t always be limited to what they could do on the day. This is where the term ‘growth mindset’ was coined – people who can see beyond the now and recognise that “I can’t do this… yet.” People that can see a path to the future. 

Always on the lookout for the next shiny new performance advantage, the concept of a growth mindset has been embraced by start-ups and large corporations alike over the last decade. Worked into recruitment and corporate culture it promised to create a more adaptative workforce able to succeed in rapidly changing environments. 

The danger, however, with companies developing their own versions of the growth mindset is that personal development opportunities become aligned solely with business goals – with employees encouraged to focus narrowly on objectives that directly impact corporate growth metrics.  

And I would argue that it’s the corporate obsession with continued economic growth at all costs as the number one measure of success that contributes to the problem. It doesn’t consider the room or resources required. The problems we face today are growing with us: both in their scale and complexity. In my lifetime alone the population has doubled while the planet – and its finite resources – has stayed the same size. Now I’m no mathematician but even I can see that those numbers just don’t work if every company grows unchecked.  

As a ‘boutique’ creative agency (and in stark contrast to the size of our clients or the scale of projects) Future Positive comprises a handful of experienced, senior folks with no passengers. We are small. And I don’t just mean that in a small business kind of way. I literally mean fit-around-a-table, get-there-in-a-single-cab kind of a small. But to be successful we must get bigger right?  

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of the New York Times Bestseller Rework don’t think so. 

“Have you ever noticed that while small businesses wish they were bigger, big businesses dream about being more agile and flexible? And remember, once you get big, it’s really hard to shrink without firing people, damaging morale, and changing the entire way you do business.” 

So rather than relentlessly pursuing growth for growth’s sake, at our January kick off meeting we asked ourselves a different question: Why does the world need more FP in it? 

(By the way if you don’t know who we are, we’re a creative B2B agency that “works with the world’s problem solvers to make the complex more compelling, by creating brands and campaigns that truly speak to people” according to our website…) 

Well by our analysis the world is certainly getting more complex. And there seem to be more B2B companies out there making a positive impact that need to tell their story – together these two factors drive our small-but-perfectly-formed agency forward. 

But echoing the sentiment of the peerless Nils Leonard at Uncommon Studio, agency growth shouldn’t be about producing more ‘stuff’: “I don’t want us to do more work, I want us to do greater work”. 

So, our path to the future is not about creating or gaining more, it’s about focusing on more of the good stuff. 

Rich Whitehouse is Creative Director at Future Positive. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn to chat about the good stuff on your to-do list