Here’s a one liner that might confuse, shock and perhaps, enrage some workplace learning teams. Building L&D products, solutions or tools (alone) won’t solve 99% of supposed workplace performance problems.
Before we begin:
If you’ve read any of my stuff before, particularly my work on Steal These Thoughts!, then you’ll know I have a somewhat obsession with human development and the exploration of meaning.
I’m of the opinion that having meaning in life is more important than happiness. Mainly because happiness is an emotional state, one that is fleeting and cannot be sustained. Whereas meaning is something that drives us, gives us a sense of being and will more likely provide the moments of happiness we seek.
A quick note before we begin:
This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about for sometime, it’s taken me nearly 8 months to finalise what you read now.
I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour and exploring why we do the things we do. As a society, mental health issues have been on a scary increase over the last 10-15 years and particularly in my generation, the anointed ‘millennials’.
I’m a believer in the fact that all of us in some way are dealing with the mechanics of a path and way of engaging with the world that we did not choose when we were infants, being most likely thrust upon us by those who raised us. As I’ve grown older, it’s become pretty clear to me that many of us struggle daily, because some of the things we have been taught in the environment from our younger years don’t actually help us live a good life now.
This post is not me telling you what to do, rather it’s a bunch of thoughts and insights that I feel can help us all find some understanding in why we operate the way we do, whether that’s in how we think, feel or behave. It’s ultimately about recognising that you have a choice in everything in life and we have the power to change anything.
It was Albert Einstein who said “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and only cease at death.” Yet, I find many believe that education and in turn most growth stops once you complete your studies with an education establishment. But, I would hope that those reading this would know that the education of life never ends.
I had the chance to recently be part of a Q&A panel at an event with the topic focussed on the skills people will need in 2030.
This conversation triggered a wave of thinking and reflection in my own mind, particularly on the prerequisite that I believe is needed before any skill acquisition, and this is when it comes to mindset.
And in particular, for me, why a growth mindset is the essential trait for lifelong development that I’ve seen many high performers and those who find success in their own niche all possess.
Look, you’ve probably heard the word growth mindset thrown around a million times on social platforms like it’s some kind of secret weapon that you have to join a cult to gain access to. But don’t worry, because none of that is required.
Unpacking a growth mindset
If you google the words ‘growth mindset’ you’ll be met with an abundance of images and articles all sharing variations of this idea but in my research, I’ve found most of these originate from one person in particular – Carol Dweck.
Carol is a psychologist and professor of psychology at Stanford University where she is known for her extensive work on mindset with a focus on motivation, personality and social development.
I’ll be referencing a number of pieces of Carol’s work about growth mindset as we go on.
What exactly do we mean when we say growth mindset?
My interpretation (for what it’s worth) is that someone who cultivates a growth mindset is not only open to new ideas and philosophies but seeks them out. They don’t just fail fast, they learn from it, they adapt to the evolution of the world around them and aren’t afraid to make adjustments or change their mind when presented with new information.
But, that’s just me, far smarter people like Carol Dweck describe it as:
“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
And to build upon this from another article by Carol Dweck in Harvard Business Review titled “What having a growth mindset actually means” we learn:
“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”
Essentially, a growth mindset is one of believing that you are not fixed, you don’t have to stay the way you already are. Growth is always possible and with application, you can always learn and change.
Don’t confuse this with blue sky thinking of ‘you can be whatever you want to be’ – this philosophy is more grounded in the reality of reaching your own potential, and not saying I can be just like so and so.
Why is it so important?
Before you can talk about building skills and your desired career, we must craft our approach. My work over the last 15yrs has allowed me to connect with people from all walks of life, and what I’ve learnt from those people is that cultivating a curious mind and one of growth is the biggest enabler of peak performance.
And, it’s important to note that you aren’t born with a fixed mind or growth mind. It’s something you develop as a philosophy throughout your life. We can never have a 100% growth or fixed mind, we all straddle between both.
We’ll have areas where we seek growth and others where we can find our views are fixed, but this can all be changed.
I’m feeling very quotey in this one, so let me share another from the ever engaging Bruce Lee who said “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.
How this can help you and organisations
You’ve probably figured out the answer to this already from what I’ve shared.
Now I usually love to share data and lots of figures to illustrate my thoughts. But, in my research so far (it’s always a continual thing) I’ve found very little hard data that objectively analyses the effect of growth mindset, whether positive or negative.
I tend to believe on occasions that not everything that matters can be measured.
From what we know (and can see in high performing individuals) about the philosophy of growth mindset, it does sound like an approach that would enable continuous growth for many of us.
In my own experiences, the high performers I’ve come across in life and the work environment all display this approach in some way. It’s one I try to cultivate in my own life too.
Of course, mindset alone will not bring you success. We must also have the desire to do many things and the discipline to achieve them (more on that in an upcoming edition).
So, before we talk about skills, let’s explore the mind.
We will all only get as far as our mind allows us, so it might just be that in cultivating a mindset of growth we can reach not only our own potential but also help others do that across organisations too.
Before you go… 👋
If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.