Kiran Mathur Mohammed
Over the last year I have been speaking with farmers, doctors, artists, vagrants, bankers and businessmen. I have been trying to unearth the narrative of our economy. Each story was unique. But listen long enough and gradually they all come to the same conclusion. Our economic narrative has been shaped and will be shaped by culture.
What in our culture has prevented us from living in a society filled with optimism, opportunity and fulfillment? Fear and anxiety. What happens when we’re anxious? Look at a deer in headlights. Either they flee, they stay rooted to the spot or they angrily charge.
We don’t have the confidence that we can grow. What is the point of going to night classes? We will probably fail, and anyway there are no jobs even if we invest in that education.
What is the point of starting a new business, or trying to offer a new service? It will probably fail.
What is the point of lending money to a start-up? Their business plan may be good, but they have no collateral. Better not to take the risk.
Why build that factory, even if it may make you more money? It might not work. Better to safely import.
Many have bemoaned a lack of discipline or poor work ethics. That is true. But what if that is just the result of people making rational decisions based on their beliefs?
It may be counterintuitive, but if you don’t believe you can progress, then it is actually rational to maximise your leisure or throw discipline to the wind. What is the point of showing up to work if you don’t see any future?
Our productivity problems stem from this collective insecurity. That’s the deer standing still.
If you can’t bake a bigger pie, then it makes sense just to fight over the pieces of the existing one. Crime and corruption. That’s the angry, frightened deer lashing out. Many more give up and flee to better countries. Who can blame them? Hoofprints in the dirt.
These responses that form our culture are rational. But the underlying fear is not. Those headlights are not rushing towards us. But how can we change something as elusive as culture?
A team led by psychologists Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck may have cracked the problem. In one of the largest and most rigorous studies published, the researchers targeted 12,000 students in 65 randomly chosen schools across the United States.
They gave the students a one-hour course designed to teach them just one thing: intelligence is not fixed. It can be developed and improved.
What happened? Poorer kids who went through the course got better grades, and all students were more likely to select challenging courses like advanced mathematics. The effects were small – but so was the intervention – just two short online courses. And average results mask an uneven effect: some students dramatically changed.
Reading the researchers' results made me excited about what can be done in TT. This “growth mindset of intelligence” intervention “led students to see intellectual abilities not as fixed but as capable of growth in response to dedicated effort, trying new strategies and seeking help when appropriate. This can be especially important in a society that conveys…a view that intelligence is fixed…which can imply that feeling challenged and having to put in effort means that one is not naturally talented and is unlikely to succeed.”
What this means is that culture can be changed. And changed more easily than we think. It is not immutable or fixed.
It struck me that after so many interviews and so much research, the underlying solution sounds like something out of a fortune cookie. But it is true. I was lucky enough to have bosses that always demanded that I come to them with a proposed solution if I brought a problem to them. I now ask that of my team.
The same approach can be applied to leadership. What if we treat leadership as not a human quality that we must will into existence, but as a mechanical behavioural outcome that we can practically create?
We can roll out a national campaign: we can blitz the media, attack the schools, use technology and social media to reach as many people as quickly as possible. Let us re-frame the narrative.
We are a kind and brilliant people. This Independence Day let us remind ourselves of that innate greatness.
Kiran Mathur Mohammed is a social entrepreneur, economist and businessman. He is a former banker, and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh.