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  • Writer's picturegaurav muradia

Shifting Gears between the Legacy and Transformation Mindsets

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Jankel, Nick. "The Transformation Mindset". Duke Corporate Education, 2021,


Nick Jankel suggests that in a world that is constantly changing, leaders have little choice but to adapt and evolve through taking on the ‘transformational mindset’. This is in contrast to the ‘legacy mindset’ that most leaders possess which attempts to continue with what is tried, tested and well-established in organizations. He draws on evidence from neuroscience to explain that switching between the need to ‘control and protect’, as well as ‘connect and create’ will help organizations thrive amidst unpredictability.

A Brief Summary:

In this article, Jankel argues that in an apocalyptic unstable world, leaders have little control over volatile variables. Their locus of control, he argues, is their mindset. He gently cautions leaders against being lulled by the false sense of security that the legacy mindset provides while also carefully examining the ‘relentless’ need to evolve that the transformation mindset demands. Jankel also tiptoes around some neuroscience, and hints that we have evolved to navigate and switch between two corresponding modes of consciousness, ‘control & protect’ as well as ‘connect & create’, for our survival. Despite the volatility of the rapidly transforming world and the immense possibilities emerging from neuroscience, Jankel safely ends the article with an unexciting call to choose wisdom over smartness.

My Analysis:

This article certainly makes some valid points about mindsets and how intuitively adapting them is key to thriving in a VUCA world. The connections made to neuroscience are exciting, even if not wholly substantiated as of yet. What the article really does well, however, is persuasively establish that passive assumptions and decisions based on patterns of success in the past may not always hold water. As it points out, this is especially true in an ever-evolving present, and a future of unknowns.

However, these arguments are built on some premises that require careful examination. One is the nature of change as perceived through the lens of VUCA. For the uninitiated, VUCA as an acronym stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, generally referring to terms and conditions that surround us, whether socio-economic or organizational ones. The very fact that this acronym has been around since the 1980s tells us that VUCA environments aren’t really a new phenomenon. Pardon the cliche, but as trite as it sounds, change is a constant.

In fact what Jankel misses, is that Volatility in itself does not imply that our environments are rapidly undergoing dramatic transformations. Volatility, put very simply, merely refers to the nature of change and the speed it gathers. This can vary, as external variables and catalysts weave their dances around organizations. The fact that Volatility itself is variable can’t be emphasized enough here! It’s just as likely that organizations can experience periods of stability as they can go through tumultuous periods of accelerated transformation or steep declines.

While change is indubitably here to stay, what Jankel perhaps really wanted to articulate is that the pace of change organizations experience is changing. This is where his call for organizational agility and shifting between modes of consciousness begin to make perfect sense. In the education industry for instance, the much-talked about pandemic revealed the in-built resilience and adaptiveness of the nature of learning itself- in how learners, teachers and school leaders alike stepped up and adapted to colossal shifts in learning spaces, modes of communication, resources and even assessment.

Yet, on the other hand, the pandemic also exposed massive systemic and socio-economic gaps in models of learning and teaching, as well as challenges in delineating ‘required learning’ from ‘non-essential learning’ when curriculums had to be massively cut down to size. Now, in the aftermath of the second wave, we are better placed to see the survival benefits organization agility offered to certain schools- schools that embraced new virtual environments, while sticking to the tried and tested pedagogical approaches. Equally apparent was also the collapse of schools that passively attempted the ‘wait and see’ approach as well as those who changed too much, and too quickly- overwhelming their learning communities with repeated changes they were unprepared to tackle.

Perhaps, in the final reckoning, this is what Jankel’s neat-looking twin mode theory misses- the gaps and glitches that arise when we shift gears too hastily. The engine stalls when we transform for the sake of transformation, as well as when we sit back and do nothing in a bid to survive. Yes, mindsets definitely matter, but switching between them is nothing to be alarmed about just yet, as long as you shift gears gently and thoughtfully.

Insights for Schools:

  1. Plan for exigencies: There’s never been a better time to dust off our emergency preparedness plans and review our readiness for the unexpected. Who are the intellectual, social and logistical first-responders in our schools? How well trained are they? What are our schools’ approaches to the unexpected?

  2. Build adaptability into policies: It’s also a good time to evaluate how much flexibility and responsiveness is already built into our systems- and how much more is needed. Playing scenario-building and what-if games might be a great way to kickstart your next policy review.

  3. Focus on what’s enduring: All the buzz around lost learning has clearly put the spotlight on the timeless and enduring aspects of learning and teaching. It’s no longer enough to plan one syllabus outline each academic year- school’s must always have sound contingency learning plans that zero in on the essentials.

The Bottomline:

Shifting gears between the old and the new is something we tend to do automatically, without much thought. Organizational agility is important, but we should not be in a hurry to overrate its significance. Dr Gaurav Muradia is a progressive educationist and director of leading K-12 international schools. He is also an Advisor to several schools with whom he works with to establish and sustain innovative systems and practices.

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