June 2012


Those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating.  They’re informative.  They’re a wake-up call.

-Carol Dweck

Reading those sentences reminded me of an episode of Seinfeld where George does the opposite of what his instincts tell him to do.

By the end of the episode he has a job and is dating a girl he never would have talked to if he followed his instincts.  I doubt this is what Dr. Dweck had in mind when she addressed failure in her book.  However, it illustrates how a person can achieve beyond their perceived capabilities if they learn to respond differently to failure.

Is there a difference between teaching and learning?  Why do some participants “get it” while others don’t?  Is success dependent on natural talent?

As a learning professional, these are the things I think about.  Not all the time, but I am sure more than most people do.  I’m always looking for ways to improve the results of my work.

In her book, Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck shows how ordinary athletes became extraordinary through hard work.  By way of contrast she introduces the chapter by reviewing the career of Billy Beane.  You may recognize his name from the movie Moneyball.  Billy Beane was a gifted athlete, a natural.  He excelled in basketball, football, and baseball.  He decided to pursue baseball professionally and struggled.  He was in the fixed mindset, incapable of accepting failure and unable to correct what was going wrong.  But that’s not the end of the story.

Dr. Dweck explains how Billy Beane turned it around, not as a baseball player but as an executive.  He learned how to turn a perceived failure into a learning opportunity.  In other words, he adopted the growth mindset.  In the video below (CAUTION: strong language), you see how he applied the growth mindset to build a winning baseball team despite having the second lowest payroll in baseball.

Toward the end of the clip you see the difference in his approach.  The scouts in the room were focused on finding talented players because that is how it was always done.  But the economics of baseball prevented teams with a limited payroll from acquiring enough talented players to win.  In effect, they had lost before the team even set foot on the field.

The scouts perfectly illustrate the fixed mindset.  Your success is limited to where your talent will take you.  Billy Beane’s mindset says, find players who get the most of the talent they have and let’s see where it takes us.  I lived in Northern California during the time this movie took place and the excitement around this team was amazing.  It helped that they were winning.

So where did Billy Beane learn the mindset?  He attributes it to Lenny Dykstra, one of the least likely players to become an all-star.  Despite his lack of natural talent he made the most of what ability he had.  Billy Beane said of Dykstra that “he had no concept of failure.”  When things didn’t work out, he just kept on trying.

According to Wikipedia, Lenny Dykstra was a 13th round draft pick by the New York Mets in 1981.  After a short time in the minors he joined the major league team in 1985.  He made the All-Star team 3 times, played in two World Series, came in second in MVP voting in 1993, and had a post-season batting average of .321.

Success has not continued in Oakland and the excitement has worn off even though they are still applying the same principles.  Does that mean the principles don’t work?  Far from it.  One of the reasons they are not successful is because other teams have adopted their methodology.  Clearly that makes the job of fielding a winning team harder but their past success shows that it can be done.  It all depends on how you respond to the challenge.

I titled this post the way I did because that is what I expect you to do if I echoed the title of this blog post, “How to Think Outside the Box.”  Despite using a cliche in its title the post has some worthwhile thoughts.  Here’s one,

Build a Better Relationship With Your Boss: Go out of your way to connect with your boss whenever possible. I don’t mean sucking up…really try and build rapport. If you have a positive relationship with your boss, you will be much more comfortable and likely to generate better ideas and suggestions. (emphasis mine)

Its also got a useful infographic that complements the post nicely.

[T]raditional efforts to create organizational learning may be thwarted if employees are not aware of the habits they have to unlearn.

In this article, John Boudreau explores the link between people’s shopping and work habits.  He cites work by a predictive analytics scientist that shows how difficult it is to break habits.  The scientist says the difficulty is caused because the habits have become unconscious.  The author goes on to cite research by MIT that “suggests the brain shuts down once the habit is formed to preserve conscious brain space.”

This is useful for anyone who is responsible for training others.  A common mistake trainers make is to assume the learner is prepared to receive the information in the intended manner.  If the proper groundwork is not in place the learner may not be in the right frame of mind to retain it, let alone change their behavior.

The quote above mentions the likely need to unlearn existing habits.  Unlearning may not be as hard as it sounds.  In fact, all that may be required is pointing out the need to the audience.  Below is a 3 minute video based on a classic instructional design strategy developed by Robert Gagné.  In it you will learn 9 steps that will help you organize and improve your training.  What I like about the video is that it attempts to demonstrate the instructional strategy while teaching you about it.

Back in January Harvard Business Review posted an interview of Carol Dweck.  It lasts about 15 minutes.  Below are some teasers excerpts from the transcript (available by following the link).

CAROL DWECK: So what message should a manager or leader give to new recruits that would put them into more of a growth mindset?

First, I think the message from the top is really important, that we value passion, dedication, growth, and learning, not genius.

You have to listen to get two, three, and four.

CAROL DWECK: So the companies now that are thriving are the ones that give this message (1-4 from above). And also, my research has shown, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t praise talent. You don’t praise ability. You praise process.

This is an interesting point.  An organization that invests in assembling a great team may not succeed if it does not nurture an environment where the team can succeed.  If everyone is doing their job in their own way the team is likely to struggle.  Dr. Dweck addresses this later in the interview.

And this is a time of tremendous change where, like it or not, you’re going to have periods of confusion. Like it or not, you’re going to turn into a novice over and over again. And we need to be comfortable with struggle, not just effort, but struggle, confusion.

This struggle is due to external factors.  We all know the marketplace is constantly changing.  Often the ability to adapt to this change is what determines an organization’s success.  Don’t compound the confusion by allowing internal confusion.

According to Dr. Dweck successful organizations recognize and reward employees who stretch themselves and take reasonable risks regardless of the outcome.  I would add that successful organizations recognize team members who see an opportunity, pursue it, and succeed.  When it doesn’t succeed, take time to learn why.  This is part of the process.