October 21st, 2020
EPISODE 6: Growth Mindset – Why it’s More Important Now Than Ever
In this week’s episode, NLI Co-founder and CEO Dr. David Rock is joined by Senior Researcher Michaela Simpson. Together they unpack the importance and power of mindset. They discuss the research that suggests we can cultivate adaptive mindsets not just individually, but at scale, and explain the habits that can help us thrive through difficult times.
[00:00:05] GB: It’s all in your heard. Or rather, it’s all in your mindset. Our mindset, how we interpret and react to the world around us affects how we give and receive feedback, how we learn, innovate and include others. When the world turns upside down, your mindset becomes more critical than ever before. Often, we panic, but panic and paralysis aren’t inevitable reactions to crisis. While some people fall apart, others rise to the occasion, taking challenges not as threats, but as opportunities to grow and improve.
At NLI, we’ve been studying mindsets for years and we’ve been helping individuals and whole organizations cultivate adaptive mindsets to thrive through difficult times. Here’s how we do it and how you can too. I’m Gabriel Berezin and you’re listening to Your Brain At Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute.
We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday. This week, our panel features NLI Co-Founder and CEO, Dr. David Rock and Senior Researcher, Michaela Simpson. Together, they unpack the power of mindset. In a lively discussion, they share the research that suggests how we can cultivate adaptive mindsets at scale and explain the specific habits needed to build cultures of resilience. Enjoy.
We’re going to talk about growth mindset. Actually, I want to do a little more on mindsets and talk about the mindsets plural we need now more than ever to thrive through this time and what crazy times. It’s been interesting connecting with really, hundreds and hundreds of leaders in the last few months and many people are of course, really struggling, but many people also doing well and many people really struggling and finding silver linings and ways to really maximize this time personally, as well as organizationally. I think that’s a interesting place. You can have some really difficult things happening in your life, but also, actually having some great experiences through this. How do we get to that place as best we can is the theme for today.
If you don’t know, those of you who don’t know NLI, give you a very quick snapshot for those new to the organization. We’re actually 22-years-old this year. We’re based in 24 countries, big global footprint advisor to over 50 of the Fortune 100. Our vision is actually making organizations more human through science and we’ve never been busier, because suddenly, companies care about humans and science. We’ve been very busy helping organizations think about the deeper cognitive science, particularly, of thriving through this time, both individually and team and organizationally as well. Let’s dig into that a little bit.
Before we get into growth mindset, I wanted to anchor on some of the things that might be happening in our brains. One of my favorite things to do is labeling and identifying what’s going on for all of us. Right now, I started talking about this in March when the pandemic first hit, that there’s this pendulum and this wildly swinging pendulum is back, for better or worse. I want to talk about it a little bit. Particularly as we get closer to the end of the year, there’s a lot of people have been saying to themselves unconsciously, or even consciously like, “I’m so glad 2020 is over. It’s been a write-off. Next year is going to be great.”
I’ve got some good news and some bad news about that. The good news is by the end of maybe a week from now, you’re going to feel a whole lot better. The bad news is you might feel a whole lot worse till then. I think that there’s a situation right now where lots and lots of people are being overly optimistic and under-reacting to the data and what’s really likely to happen and being hopeful that things will improve soon.
There’s nothing wrong with hope. Hope is a wonderful strategy at times. Denial is a wonderful strategy at times. Distraction is a wonderful strategy at times. These things sometimes are adaptive. I don’t personally think that they’re very adaptive right now. The reason for that is that it keeps you in a heightened state of alertness and a heightened state of ambiguity and uncertainty, where many, many decisions don’t get made from this place. There’s a lot of people in this place of feeling like, well, a vaccine is going to happen really soon. Everything’s going to be back to normal, but there’s just no data supporting that when you really look at it.
There’s another end of the pendulum, which is the sky is falling, the world is ending. There are certainly people that are really struggling in so many domains that it does feel the sky is falling for them. For others, perhaps, there’s a lot of folks in very high-threat, catastrophizing and obviously, the election is going to bring a lot of emotions in North America and possibly more. There’s an overreacting right now.
Now, the challenge with both of these ends is that you don’t do really important work that is essential right now. Now on the under-reacting side, basically, you have no incentive to really think about the data and really improve things, because you’re just in denial and you just assume it’ll get better. It’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to invest my time into rethinking my whole life, because it’s going to just get better soon anyway.” That’s what we tell ourselves.
On the far right there, we don’t have the cognitive resources to actually think well. We don’t want to think well, or we can’t think well at either end. What we need to do in the middle is have the right mindsets that help us to actually scenario plan. We can’t predict the future. We can’t be certain about the future, but we can see some different scenarios and think about those.
This mindset in the middle is really important. To me, right now, this mindset is accepting and I’m sorry, I’m going to apologize in advance for anyone that’s upset, but I think the most adaptive thing right now is actually to accept that 2021 is going to be as disrupted and difficult and complicated as 2020. Maybe even more so. To settle into that and accept that and get to work at making things a little better on that assumption. Probably, the most realistic scenario is sometime in 2022, we get to a place where it starts to feel like things are back to normal in terms of the socializing and patterns of life that we’re used to.
As hard as that is to accept, accepting that this is really difficult and it will last a lot longer is probably the mindset to actually have. This really brings us to something that we talked about early in the pandemic, which I think has become even more important right now. That’s the Stockdale Paradox. Jim Stockdale was a navy colonel. He dropped into Vietnam, or his plane was down. He landed in a prisoner of war camp. Basically, ended up in a prison of war camp. Was the most senior military person in that camp. What he noticed was that lots of people didn’t survive the prisoner of war camp. Guess what? It was people either at overly optimistic that didn’t survive, or people that were overly pessimistic that didn’t survive.
He found that the people who did survive had this unusual blend, he called a paradox of this belief in eventual success, but combined with the deep acceptance of the harsh reality. What we’re seeing and I’m seeing it from hundreds of people, like clients, friends, colleagues, all sorts of people like, oh, just feeling it’s all going to be done by early next year it’s going to be done. It sounds tremendously like the stories he would tell of folks who thought they would be home by Christmas and then would fall apart.
I think right now, it’s a really, really healthy thing, as scary as it is to process this. It’s a really healthy thing to say, look, 2022, maybe even 2023, it’s going to be amazing. Eventually, this will sort out and we will look back on this with amazement at what we did and what we learned and how we changed, but it’s going to be really hard and really long until then and settle into this.
If you’re just hearing that for the first time and you’re just frustrated with it, let it sink in. Sit with it. It might take a week, or even two weeks of just really reflecting on that before you can get to this next step, which is the really important one. This next step is followed by taking action to make things even a little better. What you want to do from this place and he didn’t have this third step. The Stockdale Paradox was just these two.
The third step is really, really important and that’s, all right, now you know you’re going to be here for a while, if it’s a prisoner of war camp, or prisoner of COVID, now you know you’re going to be here for a while, what can you do to make things that little bit better and really take control of your environment any way you can? That feeling of control is so helpful for reducing your overall stress response and helping you survive literally and psychologically as well. That’s the Stockdale Paradox.
Now, what does that mean to make things a little bit better? This is literally a growth mindset. What I wanted to do is put the Stockdale work aside for a minute and talk about growth mindset. Now, this isn’t just COVID. This is also the incredible racial crises that are happening, obviously political crisis. There’s a lot of things that are really difficult at the moment all at once.
We have to imagine that it’s going to eventually get to a better place, all of these things, but it’s going to be difficult in the process and how can we actually make things a little better, not just COVID. Growth mindset. We started working on growth mindset quite a while ago. The first paper we published was in 2016, although we’ve actually published something before that, about 2014, on the relevance of growth mindset for performance management. We were starting to weave growth mindset into performance management from about 2012-2013. Then published the first piece.
We came out with organizational growth mindset in 2016. It took a while to publish that. That first paper you see on screen is a really important paper. If you’re from an organization and you want to understand this concept, I strongly recommend getting that paper, getting a hit around it. It’s all the studies that help you understand what it is and why it’s relevant and how it works in an organizational context.
What we’ve done since then, we haven’t published any other original journal papers, but we’ve actually done four industry research reports. The first one there, the idea report followed by more about performance management, followed by a case study set. Then we just came out recently with how it supports organizations through disruption. It’s a series of industry reports available to members that are super helpful about seeing what it looks like in reality.
First of all, for those of you who are new to the concept, let me just give you a definition, the belief that your abilities in any domain, so it’s domain-specific, like music, art, cooking, technology, a particular client. It’s domain-specific. No one has a generalized growth mindset, or fixed mindset. It’s the belief that your abilities in any domain can be developed through dedication and hard work, that brains and talent are just the starting point. That you’re not inherently, or innately good, or bad in any particular domain.
That’s really important. It turns out that that belief has an enormous impact. Are you inherently, or innately good, or bad in a domain? A fixed mindset is this belief that in that domain that you’re not innately good at something, let’s say technology. Maybe, you just never really played much with technology, didn’t learn to code, didn’t come through that time. You just believe you’re not innately a technology person. Maybe you’re really good with people and artistic things, creative things, but you’ve decided you’re not a technology person.
From that belief, you think you can’t change much, because you’re not innately good, so you don’t put much effort. You don’t really like feedback. You avoid it at all costs, because it just reminds you you’re bad. Stretch goals are just a chance to fail dismally, so you don’t set those. That’s a problem, because stretch goals are where you get the most learning from. Then finally, this is an interesting one. When you work with someone really good at technology, you become less confident. You actually become less confident when you see a positive role model.
Now think about this, if you’re trying to make someone digitally savvy, but they have a fixed mindset about technology, giving them a mentor, no good. Giving them feedback, no good. Giving them a training course, no good. Giving them a positive role model. Nothing really works if they have a fixed mindset. The mindset we have is upstream from all kinds of interventions we want to do with people. There’s almost no point trying to help someone who has a fixed mindset in a domain. It’s a really, really important insight. It’s upstream from all these other things.
Whereas, a fixed mindset is just the belief that that we can get better, that we can change. It takes effort. It takes feedback. Stretch goals are good and other’s success is a chance to actually learn. It’s this thing about innate. Whether it’s technology, or working from home, or dealing with this much change, or being a people person, or being customer-focused, like whatever it is, it’s this belief that I’m not really – that’s not really me, versus I could get better here.
This is the heart of the idea. Basically, you’re always trying to prove that you’re good, because you think you’re basically innately not and trying to look good, or you’re willing to take risks and improve yourself and get better. You believe you can get better, so you’re willing to actually improve, rather than prove. It’s really weird how it works. If you think you can’t get better, you just try to prove. If you think you can get better, you try to improve and actually get better. That’s the simplest summary that we’ve got from it.
One of the things that we’ve learned is there’s a meta habit that is really, really important. We’ve actually tracked the percentage of people who start applying this habit now when you teach it to them, but there’s a meta habit of notice and switch your mindset. Notice and switch. What we see when we teach this to people, it’s in the order of 90% of people every week, start to see a fixed mindset and switch it to a growth mindset. This is data from really large numbers of people now. About 90% of people start doing this when you teach them well, which is really great. This is the high-level thing, notice and switch, or notice and shift.
When you notice yourself, or someone else saying, “I’m not good at this technology thing. I don’t think I can deal with this much uncertainty, or this isn’t easy for me to be this hybrid working back and forth from work home.” As we hear ourselves, or others saying this, we can just literally add the word yet. “I don’t think I’m good at this technology thing yet. I don’t think I can juggle all this yet. It isn’t easy for me yet.” As we say that to ourselves, we shift everything about how we function.
This is the notice and shift. I think as we look at 2021, as well, we’re going to have some new things to experiment with. When I ask companies what’s the biggest breakthrough they had this year, generally, the big thing that shows up is shifting to work from home really fast, like in a week. Consistently, we hear like, “Wow, we never thought that was possible.” It was unbelievable. Now we’re wondering, what else is possible. We’re starting to think, “Hey, what else is possible? If we can make the whole company shift to work from home in just a week, what else could we do with a deadline?” We’ll come back to that in a few minutes.
All right. Let’s dig in. Michaela, I’m going to hand over to you. I’ll frame it up, but there’s this meta habit of notice and shift. Then a few years back at NLI, we said, “Look, what are the most important habits? What are the three most important habits to really anchor on to build this mindset and how do you really do that?” I just noticed a question from Tracy. We’ll come back to this. I’ll make sure we do that towards the end as well.
Michaela, over to you. Do you want to talk through experiment, first of all? Where experiment focus on progress, learn from others, these are the critical habits. By the way, one last thing, don’t try and learn these all at once. These are things you want to learn one at a time and really embed and apply and get going. Michaela, over to you.
[00:15:59] MS: Thanks, David. Yeah, I’d just like to have us first anchor on the concept of experiment and what do we mean by experiment? That means trying out new procedures, ideas, activities, pursuing ideas, asking questions, forming hypotheses, so we actually do mean experiment, in the sense of it could be you’re like, “Hmm. I think I might do better if I start work an hour earlier and take a mid-morning break.” That’s a hypothesis. Then you can test that out.
There are things that you can introduce in your life experimenting. Additionally, questioning your beliefs, gathering information from multiple sources. Why we’re saying this is really important, is because more than ever and maybe it’s always more than ever, that we need to be agile and we need to be innovative. We think a lot about innovation in terms of work. Innovation requires risk-taking. It requires making mistakes. Experimenting is part of making mistakes.
We want to get this idea across to you to become comfortable with trying things out, experimenting, making mistakes, taking risks, because that allows us to generate alternative solutions to problems. It helps us engage in new behaviors and it helps us take note of outcomes and learn from them. As you see on the slide here, it says, “Why remember to experiment?”
Well, part of it is we go on autopilot a lot. There are a lot of things we know how to do in our lives. We do the same things over and over again. We establish habits and habits serve us and that we don’t have to think about them. It gives us time to just do things automatically and we don’t put too much conscious effort into it. If we want to start adopting more of a growth mindset, that we do want to experiment, we do want to take risks and make mistakes and that does take conscious effort, which is why we need to remember to experiment.
Also, experimenting is scary. It can be scary for some people and it can be scary for a lot of us, especially if we’re in an environment, or a work culture that doesn’t value experimenting, or risk-taking, or making mistakes. We might be in a culture that might not be explicit, but implicit is like, “No. You don’t try new things. You don’t make mistakes. Or if you do, you don’t want anybody to see that.” If you do try something new or take risks, experiment that you might be censored for that.
We also talk about organizational mindset cultures. There could be organizations that have more of a fixed mindset culture. Well, they will censor people more, rather than laud them. Whereas, a growth mindset culture, they will see the value that everybody brings to work and their ability to learn and grow through effort, where they see them as having the necessary skills, or building the skills to learn and grow.
[00:18:52] DR: Add one thing before we do this.
[00:18:53] MS: Go ahead.
[00:18:54] DR: It’s so interesting, the autopilot. I don’t know if people have seen this study, but Dan Gilbert at Harvard did a random sampling study a few years ago of essentially, asking the question, when a buzzer went off in your phone, you had to answer the question, where was your mind just now? Was it in the task you’re doing, or were you mind-wandering and mentally elsewhere? He found that just under half the waking hours, people are actually on autopilot. People are mentally elsewhere. They’re not where they should be. Or maybe it’s okay, if you’re driving, that’s fine, but so this random sampling study using phones and fascinating.
We go on autopilot a lot, because it is cognitively taxing, metabolically expensive to actually stay focused, and so we shut down a lot, which means that we’re not really there. We’re not really thinking actively about what we’re doing. I think about the servers in a restaurant, for example, who they’re mentally not there. They accidentally trip, accidentally do things. We’re not taking in data fresh if we’re in autopilot. We’re not adapting to changing situations, small or big if we’re in that space.
[00:19:54] MS: Very much so. Some of you might be thinking, some of you might have heard of the term default mode network. That’s also this phenomenon that research discovered when they had people in the brain imaging machines, where they put people in doing different tasks and they’re looking at what they call oxygenation levels changing in the brain. That was happening when their people were doing tasks and then they started to notice when people were just waiting in between, doing tasks, they noticed that people did essentially what’s called mind-wandering and they call it the default mode network.
Most of the time, if we’re not consciously focused on something and taking in information, then we’re just like, our mind is wandering. As David said, you could be a server in a restaurant and you know what to do and your mind is just elsewhere.
[00:20:35] DR: Yeah. That’s where you trip and do something. Or on a trading floor, who knows what? We want to remind people to experiment that way. Yeah, back to you.
[00:20:44] MS: Right. Yes. Different ways that we can experiment, so look for potential experiments. Again, in your workplace of maybe you are afraid of technology, or using Zoom. Well, get on Zoom and just experiment with it and do it when there’s nobody else on a call with you. There are different ways we can experiment with things. We can try new ways to solve problems. Also, I think what’s really important, especially if we might be a little bit more fixed, have a more of a fixed mindset towards something is accept that what we try might not work. Guess what? It’s okay. We’ll just try something new again.
It’s an iterative process. When we keep on getting that feedback from ourselves that, “Hey, the world didn’t fall apart when I tried something new. It didn’t work. I try something again,” that actually creates a positive feedback loop. We’re sending signals to our reward – the reward parts of our brain are lighting up. Again, the more rewards we get, the more likely we are to engage in a new behavior.
[00:21:41] DR: Yeah, that’s great. This is something that leaders need to be really conscious of, whether it’s a team leader, or a whole organization leader, that we need to send the right signals, that experimenting is good, that mistakes are expected, that when you make a mistake, you don’t get punished. Obviously, if there are really significant ones, you’ve got different issues, but you want to really encourage that experimentation in the culture.
One thing we do at NLI, we have what we call mistake of the month, where we share out the dumbest thing someone did. Most months, I have something in there, because I’m always experimenting and making mistakes a lot. Mistake of the month is literally, the whole company hearing about something that someone did and sharing that. Then also, hearing the learning from it. I think it’s really important that teams and organizations actually encourage experimentation and accept that these things can go wrong.
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[00:23:28] MS: Value progress is one of the second foundations we talk about, one of the habits you want to build in order to embrace a growth mindset. what do we mean by that? That means realizing it’s also about the journey. Generally, it’s probably most of you know, a lot of especially in the business world, we’re often focused on what’s the result? What’s the result? We tend to place more value on the end, rather than on the journey.
We find that research has shown that often, people who adopt a fixed mindset around a particular situation, they tend to have a snapshot of one moment in time of their performance like, “Ah, I blew that segment of that presentation I gave,” when they’re working on a project that spans, say six months, and they focus on that little thing and then they can end up beating themselves up. If they experience a setback, then it just looms in their head and it increases distress, then they’re not really able to focus on what they’re doing. Then say, maybe it’s a success of what they do, but then they become fixed in that and they’re more likely to compare themselves to others.
There’s this thing of just taking again that snapshot, rather than looking at the journey over time. What studies show is that people who adopt a growth mindset around something, they’re more likely to value their progress over time. Where were they before? Where are they now? Where are they headed? What’s the progress we’ve made? When we engage in new behaviors and we’re making these new connections, it needs attention and reinforcement. Remember, this is not a time to go on autopilot. This is where we need to give conscious effort to that.
One of the ways in which we can direct our attention around that, one of the strategies we talk about at NLI is called reappraisal. That’s the strategy that what helps you shift your focus from in the moment, negative self-judgment, to valuing progress over time. Reappraisal allows us to see a situation differently, hopefully, in a positive light, where we can reframe things in a positive light. Other terms for reappraisal are reframing and re-contextualizing. That gives you a sense of what I’m talking about.
I just like to share a little experiment with you that some researchers did, where they showed participants a photo of people crying outside of a church, which often, and the people who saw the photo made them really sad. Then the researchers asked the people to imagine that people just came out of a wedding and were crying tears of joy. All of a sudden, the perspective changes.
It gives us that sense of how when we change our perspective, our view of an event can change, as well as our emotional response. As far as brain studies are concerned, they found that when people did something like that, what we call positive reappraisal, it activated regions of the brain that allow us to think about things more pragmatically. Then at the same time, it reduced activation in the limbic system, which reduced the emotional impact of a challenging situation. Just by virtue of us changing and re-contextualizing a situation, “Ah, I blew it. Oh, wait. I didn’t blow it totally. Okay. Maybe I didn’t get it yet. I didn’t get it yet, but I can improve.”
[00:26:36] DR: It’s a great summary. It’s really great. It’s really helpful. It is reappraisal, isn’t it? It’s it’s changing how you see this from, “I didn’t get it,” to, “I just didn’t get it yet. I’m on the learning journey.” There’s a visual here, I think brings it alive the rule of three. You’re never talking about just did you achieve something. It’s always, where were you? Where are you? Where are you going?
You’ve run a fantastic virtual meeting. Great. What did you do three months ago and how was it? Oh, look at all the improvements you’ve made. Oh, where do you think you can get to in three months? How much better can you get it even more? You’re always thinking about where you were and where you’re going. It really changes this desire to be perfect. It turns down that obsession with your status, that obsession with having it exactly right and makes you more open to experimenting as well. These habits interact with each other as well. You want to take us through the third one?
[00:27:30] MS: Yes. Also, just to tag on what David was saying about value and progress, when we start taking the focus off ourselves and beating ourselves up, that gives us more cognitive capacity to deal with learning and improving, interacting with others, which would segue into learning from others. When we adopt this attitude that we can learn and develop and grow, one of those is to learn from others.
In the workplace, it’s not just from the experts, it’s also from the generalists. It’s from everybody. When we take an interpersonal life, same thing. We have so much to learn from. We have so many people we can learn from. We can get their feedback. We can get their guidance. We can get their knowledge. Why do we need to remember to learn from others? Well, we have huge blind spots. We often think, we sometimes think, with a lot of hubris of course, we think we know all there is to know. We might think that we view the world in the right way and that everybody views the world in the way that we do. It can also be the thing of like, “If I’m not so good at something, I want to avoid any feedback, or any reflection that would show that I don’t really know this.” Then we just create these barriers, so we just don’t see certain things.
Whereas, people who adopt a growth mindset, they see opportunities to learn in everyday action. They seek out knowledge and feedback from all kinds of people, from role models to reverse mentors. Those are people like, technology seems to be the topic right now. You might be a senior person in your corporation, but you’re maybe not as well-versed in certain areas of technology, where you have this relationship with a mentor, where you both are mentoring each other in the areas of knowledge and expertise.
Just, what are the ways we can learn from others? Ask regularly for input and feedback. If any of you at NLI, we’re very big on feedback and asking for feedback. Because there’s one study that was conducted that found that when people asked for feedback, the person who was asked felt more comfortable in giving honest feedback. When we create a culture where we ask for feedback, people can feel comfortable in doing that and actually giving you more constructive feedback.
Part of that is seeking out others. Very importantly, apply what you’re learning. We can learn information, but it’s really important that we apply it and we do it and then that can become a new behavior and we do that so it becomes a habit, but hopefully, a mindful habit that is about learning and growing.
[00:29:55] DR: It’s such an interesting one, this one. If you had to pick one habit to work on for growth mindset, it’s asking for input, or perspectives, or feedback, however you want to frame it, but really asking people. Because what happens is we don’t actually get very much feedback, or very useful feedback.
We did an actual bio study, sending a team of scientists into a company and setting up this whole research study of people giving and receiving feedback, collecting bio data. It was a fascinating study. What we found is that giving feedback is actually just as stressful as receiving it, often more, which is why we don’t do it very much, or very well. We tend to just give the positive stuff, because we’re really anxious about how people will take it.
Receiving feedback, also really, really stressful. When someone asks, it actually halves, roughly halves the stress level for both people, the giver and receiver. It’s a really huge differential in something that we think is the major block to feedback, which is the threat response. It’s a huge, huge differential when people actually ask. We do a lot of work on how do you create an asking for feedback culture, rather than a feedback culture and it makes enormous difference.
One piece of research really blew my head off around why we need to ask, it turns out that other people know you better in terms of your skills, abilities and potential, than you know yourself, even if those people have only known you for a short time, talked to you for 15 minutes. Other people are actually more accurate about what you’re capable of, what your skills are, this thing. There are some exceptions to that. There’s a few specific technical skills that’s obviously hard to know. On the whole, others are more accurate about you than you. If we’re just trying to live in a cave and look into ourselves and we’re not getting lots of feedback from others, we’re missing enormously important information from other humans.
We’ve built a whole body of work on this. There’s a really good piece we wrote in strategy and business magazine around feedback and feedback culture that my team can maybe throw in here. Michaela, you want to answer that?
[00:31:48] MS: Yeah. I just want to add that it is really important for us to have a growth mindset, because we know, “Oh, I should be asking for feedback.” It could also be just like, “I really don’t want to hear the feedback.” We also need to be able to adopt that growth mindset, because it does reduce the threat of information that we’ll get, where we can like, “Oh, I can use this for good. This is to help me, rather than this is a reflection of where I’m failing.” It’s really, really important. You need to have that growth mindset, because otherwise, you’re still going to – you might still ask for it, but you still might have that reaction.
[00:32:21] DR: You need that growth mindset to give it and to receive it. Absolutely. It changes things a lot. It’s interesting. What could happen if we ask for feedback regularly? What could happen? What would that be like? What are some of the implications of that? What do you think some of the things that might happen in your life, in your work that could happen if you asked for feedback?
I mean, I’ll tell you one thing, you could literally get better every single day at tasks that matter to you. If you give presentations literally every single day, you could get a tiny bit better and regularly.
[00:32:49] MS: I would just make the comment that just really briefly, that often with ourselves, it depends on who the person is, sometimes we don’t step into our abilities. We’ll downplay. We’ll minimize. Like, “Oh, I’m not really that good.” Where maybe deep down we do, but we are not used to and we have not been allowed to step into our abilities. I would say that’s one thing.
There are other things where there’s some people who think they’re way better than they’re actually are. You can have the gamut of the individual experience. I just want to say that [inaudible 00:33:23].
[00:33:24] DR: It’s a rabbit hole, because there’s definitely some contradictions between growth mindset and a strengths approach. We’re not going to have time to unpack that today, unfortunately, but we can have a conversation all the time about that. Maybe something, Michaela, something we could write about at some point, the inherent contradictions and supports between growth mindset.
[00:33:39] MS: Right. Kirsten, the Dunning-Kruger effect. Yes.
[00:33:42] DR: Yes. We might write something about that. It would be fun. Let’s bring this together. Thanks for taking us through lots of that, Michaela. You’ve got these three habits. You don’t want to build them one at a time. You don’t want to try to build experiment and value progress and learn from us all at once.
What you really want to do is work on experiment. Ideally, not just on your own and learn about it, but actually, with a team of people that matter. Because now, you can hold each other account and bounce other ideas off each other. As a team, ideally, go through and start experimenting more. Now, spending at least a week on that, maybe two weeks, maybe even a month. Probably, one to two weeks is ideal, really practicing more about experimenting. Again, with valuing progress, just make sure you learn that one at a time.
These are skills that you can learn. Now, I’ll give you some data of where we’ve taught this to organizations. These are two data points specifically on growth mindset, not so much just on feedback, but on growth mindset. A couple of different studies. This is the percentage of people now, actually activating a growth mindset. We’ve seen all the way up to 95%. We’ve seen probably the lowest result is 75% of large audiences, like thousands of people, often thousands of people. You can get a really significant impact in the number of people that are actually applying this mindset.
Now, let me just go a little bit further into some of the industry research. This was one of the big findings from one of the studies we did that top leader support is so important with growth mindset. You can’t just tell people it’s important. You actually have to have the top leaders exhibiting this. That’s a really key thing. We end up doing a lot of briefings, a lot of research briefings on growth mindset to top teams, to really get them across the whole concept.
The other thing is just getting leaders to really inspire others and share their experiments and share their mistakes and share their learnings and this is how leaders have to role model. They have to actually get in there and really live this, not just talk about it as important. We’ve been able to do that with some pretty difficult teams at times, up to thousands and thousands of leaders and create pretty significant movement.
One of the things I find with growth mindset is people see it as valuable for their lives. When you teach this to people, they’re like, “Wow, this could help me with my golf game,” they say as a joke. Then what they actually realize is it could help them with their partnership at home, or with their teenage kids, or with their exercise routine. People see that this actually could really help them, not just be a better leader, but a more healthy, successful human.
They often really get passionate about it and really embody it. We’ve had a lot of success. This is probably the easier thing to teach people and in a diversity, equity and inclusion pathway, we might start with this before teaching how to mitigate bias, before teaching inclusion and raising voices. We might start with growth mindset, just to lay the foundation for openness and learning. If we have the opportunity to do a two-year pathway, we might start with this, because it’s such a great place to open leaders’ minds and hearts to really, really learning.
Final thing I’ll say, just particularly for those new to our work, what we’ve just shown you are the three habits of growth mindset that make the biggest difference. Experiment, focus on progress, learn from others. You want to learn those with lots of people at once. You want to learn them one at a time. Also, you want to make this a priority and you want to install this in your systems, like how you do performance management? That’s come up. How you do talent management? How you do assessment? How you do development? All of it. Growth mindset is relevant to priorities, habits and systems and it’s really, really helpful to think about all three. This is our approach to change at scale.
A couple of closing comments. Just Michaela, any closing comments from you, just about building this from seeing this and the science, anything you want to add?
[00:37:16] MS: I would just say, it’s just really important for all of us to remember to be kind and gentle to ourselves. There are going to be some things that we’re going to beat ourselves up over and then just to remember, “Oh, yeah. I’m not good at that yet.” Yes, we can be fixed mindset around certain things and growth mindset around other things. It’s not just a blanket thing. It’s just a matter of being aware and being gentle and kind and knowing we can evolve, we can grow, we can develop and it’s all okay.
[00:37:42] DR: It’s all okay. I’ve been learning piano again. I’ve got a piano. I’ve been really playing quite a bit. I’m really enjoying it. I noticed I had such a growth mindset about playing my own pieces and just improvising around simple things, but a fixed mindset about reading music. I really noticed it. Even a growth mindset about aspects of reading music. Other things, I’m like, “Oh, that’s not me.”
[00:38:02] MS: David, that’s so funny. I’m just the opposite. I love reading music. I’m fine, but ask me to improv, no.
[00:38:09] DR: There we go. It’s really different for everyone. I really like what you said, Michaela. Be gentle with yourself, especially in this time. Be really gentle and kind with yourself. As you noticed, a fixed mindset, just being gentle with others, be gentle with yourself about that mindset and just think about, “Oh, how could I focus on progress? How could I experiment a little? How could I just really focus on my progress? Or who could I learn from?” Experiment value progress, learn from others, those are the critical habits.
All right. Michaela, thanks so much for being here and partnering with me on sharing this important work. Thanks everyone and take care of yourselves, look after each other and keep doing what matters. We hope to see you in coming weeks. Thanks, everyone.
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[00:38:47] GB: Your Brain At Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producer is Danielle Kirshenblat and Cliff David is our production manager. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky and logo design is by Ketch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.