Epic Fail: Slipping up on the Path to Success

April 15, 2012

Thanks to Flickr user purplemattfish for the photo

What if it turned out that the way we traditionally view intelligence is not the best way to reach our end goals. Perhaps not even an inconvenient route, but one that might just get us lost when it comes to both business and life? Our fear of making a mistake and taking a fall, might just be making it harder for us to succeed.

This is where mindset research comes in. There are two important mindsets to be aware of when it comes to intelligence: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck defines people with fixed mindsets as:

  • believing that their intelligence will not change throughout their life
  • being concerned with tasks that will prove their intelligence and avoiding those that make them look less successful
  • Additionally, they are more likely to hide their mistakes, to fear effort, and to give up when the going gets tough

On the other hand, Dweck describes the person with a growth mindset as:

  • believing that their intelligence can change with experience and effort
  • being concerned with tasks that will develop their intelligence and are willing to risk making mistakes
  • Additionally, they are more apt to learn from their mistakes, to view effort as a something good, and persevere

How to Find Growth Mindset

It’s pretty clear which type of mindset would give your company the best results. But how do we hire people with that type of energy? Dweck suggests that it’s natural and healthy to praise talent, but make sure that effort gets some of that spotlight, too.

“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

And these people who push, stretch and confront are the ones that you want on your team. Hiring the top of the class does not always guarantee success. When people are told that they are the cream of the crop, suddenly a fear creeps up inside of them: “What if I don’t shine as bright today, as I did yesterday?” So they box themselves in and avoid the risky, innovative projects, instead taking the safe, easy ones.

Dweck does not suggest that you do away with any respect for talent, but rather take a page from the senior vice president of Apple, Scott Forstall’s book. When looking to hire some highly gifted folks for a special project, he told them during the interview that they would have the opportunity “to make mistakes and struggle, but eventually we may do something that we’ll remember the rest of our lives.” He only took on those who immediately jumped at the idea, because they were the growth mindset guys, not the ones who just wanted to be “king of their particular hill,” as Dweck puts it.

How to Foster Growth Mindset

What if you aren’t in the position to hire? The good and the bad news is that Dweck found that while some people tend to lean more towards one mindset or another naturally, it is also possible to teach them. This is why she says that it’s a good idea to take a close look at the way we dole out and receive awards and to analyze exactly which mindset it is that we are fostering in the workplace.

Giving someone a pat on the back for a job well done is not always the best idea. Instead she suggests that, as a leader, you identify a point of interest to praise and always emphasize effort over talent. “I can see that you’ve been working pretty hard on making your presentations more aesthetically appealing. I can totally see the results.” is much more effective than simply saying  “Nice job on the presentations.” The first may take a little more time, attention and mindfulness to come up with, but the second may just as well be leading someone in the wrong direction.

When working on your own personal mindset, remember to take praise and criticism with a grain of salt. “Last month’s budget was a mess.” is not the end of the world. And “Last months budget looked b-e-a-utiful.” is not the end of your growth. If you are working hard to try on alternative routes and find the best way to your destination then mistakes will come and go on your journey. Learn from them, adjust your bearing, and then get back on your path.

New study yields instructive results on how mindset affects learning

If You’re Open to Growth, You Tend to Grow

The Perils and Promises of Praise

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