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.