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Adopt a Game-Changing Mindset

By Donald Fan
Senior Director, Office of Diversity

According to the the plateau syndrome. This can lead us down a danger-
2009 survey of the ous path of resistance to change, lost momentum, and
Committee of 100, most choked aspirations.
Americans (73%) believe Can we overcome the plateau syndrome? Absolutely,
Asian Americans have made significant contributions especially from a professional development perspective.
to the American culture. By contrast, two Senate seats,
six House of Representative seats, and only 1.5% of  urture self-confidence, self-motivation, and will-
Fortune 500 corporate board seats are held by Asian ingness to take calculated risks. Think aggressively
Americans, while 33 out of 3,200 U.S. colleges and and act assertively when it comes to your own devel-
universities currently benefit from Asian Americans opment. Consider how your self-development can
serving as president. positively influence those around you.

As an Asian American, I find these statistics both I dentify the authentic purpose for your life—who
intriguing and perplexing. Why does it appear that so you are, where you are from, and what you value—
many Asian Americans are successful individually, yet and pursue your purpose with passion. Intentionally
that same level of accomplishment does not translate nurture a new mindset to lead with courage.
collectively into the fabric of societal leadership represented Confront challenges. Seek opportunities through
by corporate America, politics, and education? different jobs, community outreach activities, and
While it may seem easier to blame societal and other cross-functional project assignments. This will spur
external factors, perhaps we can dig deeper to see if cultural unique insights and breakthrough ideas and also help
roots may play a role in this seeming contradiction. As you appreciate and thrive in an unpredictable and
Asian Americans, this can help us see if there are ways complex environment.
that we can contribute even more to the society through  ursue the passion of diversity. Today, being a
the leadership competencies that are valued in a western connoisseur of talent is not enough. Proactively tap
culture. To extend our impact in building a better into unique viewpoints and approaches, and foster a
tomorrow, we must equip ourselves with the appropriate culture that allows them to emerge and thrive.
skills and techniques, and know when and how to apply And learn to bring together divergent points of view,
what we have learned. develop consensus and maintain credibility. This
openness to diversity of thought will yield dividends
Overcoming the Plateau Syndrome far beyond your own capacity.
From a very young age, Asian people are taught to
 ave self-awareness and be honest with your
respect and value wisdom, knowledge, and ability.
strength and vulnerability. Today, an organiza-
We are told that a contented mind is a perpetual feast.
tion’s success depends on a such a variety of talents
Many Asian Americans equate success with becoming a
and skills, that no one leader could possibly have all
subject-matter expert, a go-to-person, or technologically
the answers. Leverage talents around you. Constantly
savvy. When we achieve the level of proficiency that we
solicit feedback, input, and constructive criticism to
have set for ourselves, we can easily become enamored
validate if you’re on the right track moving toward
with our achieved level of contentment and fall prey to
the true north.

66 Pro f i les i n D i ve rsit y Journal M aY / J u n e 2 0 1 0

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“ Why does it appear that so many Asian

Americans are successful individually,
yet that same level of accomplishment does
not translate collectively into the fabric of

societal leadership represented by corporate Trade-off vs. Integrative Mindset

America, politics, and education? Traditionally, Asian people have been trained to
focus on the practical, to find the most efficient path
toward higher productivity. Carried to the extreme,
Looking Back vs. Forward Thinking this characteristic can lead to a trade-off mindset,
With a cultural history that traces back thousands of where quick fixes and low-hanging fruit become preferable
years, Asian people appreciate rich historic experiences and to seeking more complex, long-term solutions. In his book,
lessons. This appreciation may lead many to search for The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin introduced integrative
conventional wisdom before starting a new journey. While thinking: the ability to face constructively the tension of
history is a powerful teacher and can inspire thoughtful opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense
planning, overreliance on the past can hamper creative of the other, generate a creative resolution by forming a
problem-solving and result in only incremental and marginal new idea that contains elements of both opposing ideas,
improvement. Looking back positions us defensively, but is superior to each.
whereas forward thinking positions us offensively. To Integrative thinkers embrace complexity, tolerate
become an effective leader and adopt a game-changing uncertainty, and manage tension in searching for creative
mindset, we need to become more forwarding thinking. solutions to problems. To become a more integrative
 e a visionary architect of your future and the
B thinker, consider the following:
future of your organization. In today’s world, filled The solutions that are presented at the moment
with volatility and ambiguity, a clearly communicated do not reflect reality; they are probably imperfect in
purpose is essential for your organization’s success. some important aspects. When faced with unpleasant
Think like a CEO and maintain a balance between choices, the integrative thinkers don’t choose right
thoughtfulness and decisiveness. As an architect, you away, but think through the problem hard enough,
are responsible to keep the outcome in mind, not just expansively enough, and creatively enough, to formulate
to provide building blocks and to set the pace. a creative solution.
 ess is more. Matthew E. May, author of the book
L  pposing solutions are the richer source of new
In Pursuit of Elegance, defines elegance as something insight into a problem. The integrative thinkers
that is simultaneously simple, but surprisingly power- leverage conflict solutions and perceive opposing ideas
ful. Sometimes simplicity isn’t about what’s there, but as learning opportunities to be appreciated, welcomed,
what’s not. Drive for elegance by focusing your efforts and understood.
and resources only on those compelling and impactful
It takes time and patience to ferret out a new and
projects that are closely aligned with your purpose and
better solution from abstract hypothesis to concrete
strategy. Learn to do more subtraction than addition.
reality. The integrative thinkers take time to question
 e a constructive contributor. Keep “all” in mind at
B conventional wisdom and define problems from a
all times: people, community, and society. Seek to con- different perspective. That is why they can generate
tinuously improve and shape the world around you. alternatives that others don’t even think about.
Due to the long history of feudal ruling in many Asian
By overcoming the plateau syndrome and striving to
countries, some people still believe social responsibility
be a more integrative and forward-thinking leader, Asian
is part of government responsibility and obligation. The
Americans can become more effective individually, and as a
distorted concept of citizenship distances them from
collective group, to lead and contribute to the society, and
actively participating in fundamental societal changes.
to build a better tomorrow for all. PDJ