The Digital Mindset:
A Revolution in Thinking?

For several years now, the meaning and implications of the digital mindset are have been the source of interesting ideas and discussions.

The aim of this piece is to suggest a different and innovative meaning, starting with the separate analysis of the two terms: Mindset and Digital.

Two types of mindset: fixed and growth

Carol Dweck uses the term mindset to define a person’s way of thinking and their beliefs. The term comes from cognitive psychology, which focusses on how people process information. Humans have a limited ability to absorb and manage information. Mindsets helps filter what gets absorbed and how it is interpreted. Having a certain mindset also means acting accordingly. Therefore, a mindset has a cognitive aspect and an action aspect, which is why it is now gaining ground in organization organisation and the theory of strategic management.

Dweck also asserts that mindsets are not stable and change over time as a result of new observations and experiences. Bellin and Pham (2007) argue that mindset is important to companies because, over time, a mindset can help a company develop its own method, its own unique approach to solving problems and making decisions in an increasingly complex, ambiguous and dynamic context of information. In addition, this creates a common identity that can be catalogued and shared with new employees.

Of the different types of mindset cited in specialist literature, we will focus on the fixed mindset and the growth mindset (Dweck, 2007).

Static thinking, without comparisons and discussions, is called a fixed mindset or a static mindset. Laziness, fear and pride are important factors and therefore one of the most obvious consequences of this mindset a is the tendency to avoid challenges, which are seen as risky endeavours that can reveal inadequacy. Faced with obstacles, people with a static mindset tend to flee, become defensive, give up easily and be impervious to criticism, even when constructive.

On the other hand, the courage to dare and to face new situations is called the growth mindset, which is a mentality that tends towards improvement, growth and personal development, whose most striking feature is a desire to learn. Challenges are seen as learning opportunities. Making mistakes means discovering something new that was previously unknown. Endeavour and effort are required in the constant push towards improvement. Criticisms are considered valuable tips. The success of others is an example to emulate.

No one is uniquely characterised by one mindset or the other: depending on where one is, in an imaginary line that has the two mindsets at each extreme, they find themselves in a dominant mindset.

Digital

The term digital, on the other hand, comes from electronics and computing and represents an analogue signal in a discrete and finite manner. Digital therefore refers to discrete mathematics that works with a finite set of elements, whereas something that is analogue is modelled using continuous mathematics that deals with an infinite set of elements. For example, a photo that normally consists of an infinite number of points, each of which is in turn formed by an infinite range of colours, is digitalised when its surface is divided into a discrete number of “points” (usually small squares or rectangles known as pixels), each of which is formed by one of the 16,777,216 colours available (if encoded in RGB).

Digital systems are older than we can imagine. The Morse alphabet, for example, is a system with a finite number of alphanumeric symbols. Other systems include lighthouses and smoke signals. The secret is to make the information discrete so that it may be communicated more easily and quickly. Nowadays, when we send a message using a mobile ‘phone, that which is transmitted, which is invisible to us, is a specific sequence of 0s and 1s. The same thing also occurs when we talk. Everything is digitalised and transmitted in discrete sequences of 0s and 1s, using binary logic based on the two symbols 0 and 1.

The theoretical model of the digital mindset

Focussing on the digital mindset at this point, Vivienne Benke suggests a theoretical model (shown in the figure) claiming it has two main aspects: a cognitive component and an action component.

Vivienne Benke, The Digital Mindset – A theoretical discussion

The cognitive component consists of differentiation and integration. Differentiation is the breadth of the knowledge that a person has on digital technology, while integration provides a measure of how much it is used in everyday life.

Differentiation is characterised by curiosity of about digital technology and always being up-to-date on digital trends and innovations. Integration contains involves the digital competency that a person with a digital mindset must possess and includes knowledge, skills and attitudes.

The action component of the digital mindset consists of two parts: the acceptance and rejection of digital technology. A person with a digital mindset may choose not to use a digital opportunity because they might not want to be efficient at that moment in time. The difference between a person with a digital mindset rejecting technology and a person with a non-digital mindset is that the former has the necessary information concerning a digital opportunity, meaning they can evaluate it and decide whether to accept it, while the latter does not possess this information. Acceptance of digital technology is further divided into broad use and acceptance of the challenges that digital technology brings with it.

The meaning we wish to attribute here to the digital mindset is, therefore, to imagine it as a moderator between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. A discrete sequence of growth and fixed mindsets is an expression of the digital mindset, the interpretation of which is precisely its meaning. Growth and fixed mindsets represent the symbols of binary logic: 0 and 1, it is either present or it is not, on or off, growth or fixed.

Therefore, the digital mindset is a sequence of growth and fixed mindsets expressed in an action. One of the best- known rules of digital culture is the acceptance of error: trying many times, failing many times and maybe getting it right sometimes. Of the thousands, perhaps millions of digital start-ups, few make it. The issue is not to avoid failure or to succeed but to try, to put ideas into action, to give them form. A mindset is formed by the continuous cycle of failures and successes, by modelling your own digital ideas.
Just as Jean Piaget defined intelligence as a dynamic balance between assimilation and accommodation, one could say that the digital mindset is a new type of intelligence defined as a dynamic balance between failure and success.

This could open up a new path to explore to give new meaning to future forms of intelligence.

Bibliographical references

  • Bellin J.B. and Pham C.T. (2007): Global expansion: balancing a uniform performance culture with local conditions, Strategy and leadership, vol. 35, no. 6, pages 44-50
  • Benke V., “The Digital Mindset- A theoretical discussion”, an online resource: http://projekter.aau.dk/projekter/files/77247472/Vivienne_Benke_Masters_thesis.pdf
    AALBORG UNIVERSITET, 2013
  • Dweck, C.S. (2007): Mindset: The new psychology of success, Ballantine Books