A mindset, in decision theory and general systems theory, refers to a set of assumptions, methods or notations held by one or more people or groups of people which is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviours, choices, or tools. This phenomenon ofcognitive bias is also sometimes described as mental inertia, “groupthink”, or a “paradigm”, and it is often difficult to counteract its effects upon analysis and decision making processes.
Most theorists consider that the key responsibility of an embedded power group is to challenge the assumptions which comprise the group’s own mindset. According to these commentators, power groups which fail to review or revise their mindsets with sufficient regularity cannot hold power indefinitely, as a single mindset is unlikely to possess the flexibility and adaptability needed to address all future events. For example, the variations in mindset between Democratic Party and Republican Party presidents in the US may have made that country more able to challenge assumptions than the Kremlin with its more static bureaucracy.
Modern military theory attempts to challenge entrenched mindsets in dealing with asymmetric warfare, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In combination, these threats represent “a revolution in military affairs” and require very rapid adaptation to new threats and circumstances. In this context, the cost of not implementing adaptive mindsets cannot be afforded.
Naturally, the question regarding the embodiment of a collective mindset comes to mind. Erikson’s (1974) analysis of group-identities and what he calls a life-plan seems relevant here. He recounts the example of American Indians, who were meant to undergo a re-education process meant to imbue a modern ‘life-plan’ which aimed for a house and a richness expressed by a full bank account. Erikson writes that the Indians’ collective historic identity as buffalo hunters was oriented around such fundamentally different reasons/goals that even communication about the divergent ‘life plans’ was itself difficult.