Adventurous Mindsets at Work

Adventure has been described as “a journey with an uncertain outcome”. But adventure is not just a level of uncertainty, it presents us with opportunities for growth, achievement, and failure. Adventure is learning, and adventure is development. 

It is arguable that throughout history, those that are prepared to undertake an adventure are the ones that have propagated the development of knowledge and the discovery of new resources, and who have facilitated the path to a better future. What adventure certainly is, is the antithesis of what might be considered the norm, or, dare we say, business as usual.  

Fostering an adventurous mindset 

Being adventurous conjures up a range of perceptions among us. Some see being adventurous through a more risk-averse lens, focusing on what might go wrong and what the consequences of such events might be. Some will see opportunity for discovery and learning and what could benefit them and others. It’s likely that most people fall somewhere in between these positions. Adventure is therefore relative to our perception. 

The Cambridge dictionary defines a mindset as “a person’s way of thinking and theiropinions”. So it must follow that an adventurous mindset is one that embraces the journey, accepts the risk and focusses on the benefits. We can conclude then that having people with adventurous mindsets in a business can be a huge benefit in terms of development, employee engagement and growth. Allowing people to take the risk and try new things sums up that oft-used word, innovation. 

So why then do organisations repeatedly put barriers in the way? We often conduct our working lives in an environment filled with rules, processes, systems and procedures. All of which push us down the route of having a non-adventurous mindset. How often have you had a conversation at work where someone has said, “I would love to be able to do that, but…”?  

In no way should we suggest that rules and processes are a bad thing: indeed, they are often essential. But is it not worth considering the unintended restrictions they may have on how we think? Are we stacking process on top of process, for example, without considering the consequences? Regularly the adventure that could take a business forward, solve a problem or create a new product is stopped before it can even begin due to the perception of restriction. Being adventurous implies a level of freedom to undertake the journey. That is, to try the new thing, to think differently, to change the way things are done.  

Adventure by evolution 

It is often accepted that we are programmed by evolution to learn experientially, i.e. by trying things out. Watch a small child explore their world. They will keep trying things until they work, or until they understand what is going on. We call it playing. That’s why, no matter how many times you tell a child not to touch wet paint on a door, for example, because they will get paint on them, they still need to touch it to find out for themselves. 

In 1984, David Kolb published his theory of experiential learning. Kolb said that “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” Kolb’s theory contains a cycle of learning consisting of four stages. 

  • Concrete experience (Do)
  • Reflective observation (Observe)
  • Abstract conceptualisation (Think)
  • Active experimentation (Plan)

We can naturally learn through experiencing. And, in order to experience things, we have to do or think something different without necessarily knowing the outcome. This therefore presents the argument: why not create working environments where being adventurous is the norm? 

LEGO and the Power of Play 

In 2018, Forbes Magazine named LEGO the most powerful brand in the world. Their success is attributed, in part, to their belief in play, in being adventurous. The LEGO philosophy is that “all too often adults undervalue or forget to play, but constructive play can allow adults to experiment, create, innovate, problem solve, find out what works, make mistakes and build bonds with one another.” LEGO is just one example of a business that has seen success, in part, due to fostering a culture of play and adventurous mindsets. 

Being Adventurous 

One of our values at The Harrison Network is “Be Adventurous.” It enables us to try new things and to take acceptable risks with the aim of doing the right thing both for our clients and for ourselves. If we want things to be different, we have to go on the adventure, embrace the challenge and sometimes realise that the outcome we thought we wanted might not be the one we actually need. But, in order to do that, we need to give people the space to be adventurous in the first place.  

As Grace Hopper said, “a ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for”.

Author: Nev Holmes, Programme & Operations Lead

Back to blog