Mindsets Matter

Nihal Ahmed, a DO School fellow and member of the Purposeful Organizations steering committee, shares his experience of building mindsets within organizations and a tool he himself uses to do so.

“I believe that human potential is the most untapped resource on earth. I also believe that we’re in the middle of a crisis of human potential, where most of us are unfulfilled; and the only way to build the world we want to see is to unlock this very potential. After all, the world won’t change until we do.” – Nihal Ahmed

Let’s break this down: Our world is at the cusp of disruption with large-scale shifts impacting the workforce – the education system of the industrial-era optimized itself to prepare students for jobs that are increasingly being handled by software and technology today. Therefore, placing more focus on developing the core mindsets such as emotional intelligence, self-discovery and self-awareness, problem-solving, leadership, teamwork, and empathy is more relevant now than ever before, yet it is still not taught in universities; thereby widening the talent gap further.

According to the Job Outlook Survey in 2014, employers believe that the candidates who demonstrate strong mindsets are best suited to succeed in the modern workplace and experts believe that for the first time since the industrial revolution the mindset has overtaken the skillset in terms of employer focus. When asked in the UK whether they preferred predicting the mindset of the staff they would desire in 10 years from now, or the skillset; 97% said mindset. Organizations know this, but some don’t know where to begin. 

So, how does the organization build these mindsets? Well, that’s something we’ll explore throughout the Purposeful Organizations initiative. Today we’ll delve into a concept that I learnt from my mentor Akshay Cherian

Vuja De: 

A flipside of Deja Vu, Vuja De invites you to look at what you’ve seen before, but through a different lens. It is a way to build an entrepreneurial mindset by exercising one’s curiosities to build, connect, and take apart some existing notions by asking the following in everyday situations: 

  • Why Questioning everything: Why do I do this? Why does it matter to me and my team? 
  • Why not Challenging the status quo. 
  • What if.. Dreaming and reimagining a future. 
  • How might we.. Framing for change and getting ready for possibilities.

A fun activity to do with your team is to think of alternate uses of objects from the office. Have your team exercise the Vuja De side of your brain by taking walks, daydreaming, creating metaphors, and seeing things from a child-like lens. Some great inventions have emerged this way, and this will enable you and your team to develop the unique perspective and skills that the world will value.

Our DO School Child’s Mindset encourages approaching challenges with a child-like mindset.

Vuja De in action

While working in India, I collaborated with Project DEFY an organization that build ‘nooks’ – democratically run, self-learning spaces that operate without teachers and without the traditional structure and conditioning that schools often entail. The model by design is Vuja De in action. 

Project Defy runs democratic self-learning spaces.

This model drives students to build their own space, create a set of ground-rules and values, build their individual and community visions and values, then identify their interests, and develop projects that either satisfy their curiosities or solve problems around them while building entrepreneurial and creative capacities. This is a community of people aged 8-75 with very different backgrounds, education levels, dispositions, and motives – yet aligned to a common purpose. These communities have a similar diverse structure as regular teams within organizations, except they are from rural villages in India, some lacking basic human needs, while others are struggling with substance abuse. Over a few months, they learnt to question everything and to break free from that stifling environment purely through applying the child-like mindset by asking ‘why not’, ‘what if’, and ‘how might we’. Many students, most of whom lack formal education, created motion-sensing solar-powered street lights, rainwater harvesting solutions, air coolers and more. 

They became an island of progressive thought, an engine of innovation and a beacon of hope and inclusion. This can very much be your organization’s story too. This is how powerful Vuja De could be. 

Start by asking, “How might we begin?”



Nihal Ahmed is the founder of Limitless, an organization helping unlock human potential in people and communities. He’s built an entrepreneurship academy in Africa, a fellowship for social entrepreneurs, festivals and experiences for creative communities, models for sustainable villages in India, card-decks and books on self-discovery and creative problem-solving among others. Meanwhile, he loves backpacking, collecting biases, unique cultural experiences and powerful conversations that shape his personality.

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