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Book review: Put your Mindset to Work

I remember the idea of ‘mindset’ coming to the fore in the early 1990s, probably as a counter to the sort of work I was then engaged in as a training and competence regulator trying to raise standards of competence, measured in terms of mainly knowledge and skills.

Most of us understood back in the day that exams did not test everything and that an adviser, for sake of argument, could be perfectly competent on paper, but in practice turned out to be a cussed and unhelpful sort. How could that be? Well attitudes, values and mindset may well have a lot to do with the explanation but we know now, as we knew then, that it’s hard to regulate for all of these.

Happily, James Reed’s book Put your Mindset to Work, is little concerned with regulating financial services standards. It is more of a self-help tome guiding users to make the best of the way they play the corporate snakes and ladders game. You might expect that of the chairman of a major recruitment company, who must have seen thousands of awkward types pass through their selection and distribution machinery.

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Mindset is explained as the “internal lens through which you see and navigate life”. It underpins what you think and believe, so driving habitual behaviour and performance. This book aims to show how the ‘global generation’ can mould their mindsets to one which is more useful and palatable to employers – with honesty, commitment and determination unsurprisingly at the top of the tree.

The self-test questions and case studies lead to the concept of readjusting your not-so-hard wiring by intense inward examination of your motivations, and then re-casting by practising ‘good’ behaviour and rewarding yourself for good outcomes. You can then deliver an improved ROI (return on individual) for your employer. Lucky them.

The book promises ‘no hype’ but then breaks this promise on pretty much every page. To suggest achieving career (and personal life) success is all about the right mindset and to suggest mastery offers the route out of post-2008 despair is pushing it, I would say. It is the way with so many self-help easy reads that they have to promise the magic key to solve all our woes, or otherwise no one would buy the book. But there is never a magic bullet. Sorry.

While most of my recent work on ethics and culture, started at FSA, would support a clearer focus on ‘deeper’ drivers this is an unbelievably simplistic and mechanical plan. I cringed at the self-absorption and bottom-line justification of it all. While we do have differing hermeneutics these are infinitely flexible and we use them in different ways at different times. Maturity is a common cause, worked out together rather than just as individuals and has a wealth of facets and influences along the journey. Certainly, attitudes and values do matter in the workplace but we are not, surely, suggesting some mass self-reprogramming for an uncertain economic good?