Accounting in the future
Accounting in the future

Being Future-Ready Will Require a Mindset Shift. Are You Ready?

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Moving into the future will take more than adding a tech stack and hiring a bunch of millennials. For many tax and accounting professionals, the biggest challenge will be a mindset shift.

As accountants, we’ve been trained to be risk-averse. We like being the ones with the answers. Many of us chose accounting as a career because we tend to be introverts. We would rather slave over a spreadsheet masterpiece than interact with people.

But, with the technological and demographic shifts we’re experiencing, we’ll need to adopt a more expansive, risk-taking mindset: the mindset that psychologist Carol Dweck identifies as a growth mindset.

Do You Have a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset?

In her book, “Mindset,” Dweck describes her decades of research trying to understand why some people embrace failure as a learning experience, while others scrupulously avoid failure. Dweck found an explanation when she discovered that people tend to have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

Someone with a fixed mindset tends to see success as a reflection of innate capabilities that cannot be changed. Success is a recognition and validation of those innate capabilities, while failure feels like a personal insult, or the result of conditions beyond one’s control.

On the other hand, a person with a growth mindset sees success as a result of hard work. While innate abilities are important, those abilities can also be improved. Failure is an opportunity to learn – and a message that more effort is needed.

As Dweck points out, these mindsets are extremes on a continuum, and people may have a fixed mindset toward certain parts of their lives and a growth mindset in other areas. Crucially, these mindsets can change through life, and by changing the beliefs we have about ourselves and our potential, we can dramatically improve our future success.

How Does This Show up in the Accounting World?

If you’ve spent any time as an accountant, one of the first acronyms you learned was SALY: Same As Last Year. Repeating what we did last year saves us time and effort in figuring out how to get the answer. It also makes it easy for the reviewer. It’s the same familiar spreadsheet or document from last year.

But, relying on SALY is a fixed mindset that stifles innovation and growth. SALY is doing it this way because that’s the way we’ve done it for years. SALY means that we’re not experimenting with technology to find new and better ways to do things. Instead, SALY means we’re focused on the past instead of the future.

This kind of thinking permeates nearly every aspect of many traditional accounting firms, from the organizational hierarchy and the services offered, to the ways we interact with clients and the ways we develop talent. And, even though most of us have gone paperless, as my colleague Alan Anderson, founder of ACCOUNTability Plus, points out, “What we’ve done with computers is reproduce in electronic form what we did with paper for decades.”

Embrace a Growth Mindset

In today’s world of rapidly accelerating change, we need to switch to a growth mindset. The new generation of millennials isn’t too interested in maintaining the status quo. They’re more likely to find an app to do the heavy lifting.

A growth mindset in accounting prioritizes effectiveness over efficiency. Just doing the same thing faster won’t serve our clients any better. But, using the time savings to provide insights and intelligence will help them grow their businesses and reach their financial goals.

Embracing a growth mindset also means getting comfortable with uncertainty. We don’t have to be the ones with all the answers, but we need to become the ones who ask the hard questions of our clients, team members and ourselves. It’s those hard questions that lead to transformation.

Instead of seeing ourselves as the heroes who swoop in and save the day, we need to become the guides who help our clients become the heroes of their own journeys.

The future will be humans augmented by technology. A growth mindset sees automation, artificial intelligence and blockchain as opportunities, not as robots coming to take our jobs. As a recent Brookings Institute study on automation and AI said, “Automation in the last 30 years delivered more jobs to the economy than it destroyed, and so holds out significant opportunity.”

Robots won’t take our jobs. But, a fixed mindset could destroy the profession. Being a Firm of the Future requires us to think, work and act differently, and embrace growth as a way of life.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on the Firm of the Future blog.

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