Growth Mindset: the Key to a Learn-it-all Culture

Exper­tism rules. Per­fec­tion is appre­ci­at­ed. First time right. Mis­takes must be hid­den, we fail secret­ly. Sascha Lobo once called this a typ­i­cal Ger­man fix­a­tion for gap dimen­sions. This was the rea­son for the suc­cess of Ger­many’s Wirtschaftswun­der. And in this suc­cess of yes­ter­day lies our cur­rent prob­lem. That’s why legions of Ger­man man­agers trav­el to Sil­i­con Val­ley and admire the courage and speed there. The call for a new cul­ture of fail­ure fol­lows. It is often for­got­ten that the point is not about fail­ure itself, but about learn­ing. What we need more than ever is a learn­ing cul­ture in our com­pa­nies.

In the begin­ner’s mind there are many pos­si­bil­i­ties, but in the expert’s there are few.
Shun­ryu Suzu­ki

Car­ol Dweck, an Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy, has been research­ing for many years what makes the dif­fer­ence between chil­dren with strong learn­ing abil­i­ty and chil­dren with poor learn­ing abil­i­ty. She address­es the ques­tion of why some chil­dren have fun work­ing on solv­ing chal­lenges and why oth­ers don’t dare to try them, rather choose sim­pler ones or give up quick­ly. In this con­text, she describes an amaz­ing exper­i­ment. A child of pri­ma­ry school age sits in a room with an assis­tant. The child finds it easy to solve dif­fer­ent puz­zles and the assis­tant prais­es her tal­ent: “You have done it well. You must be very smart!”. Now one might sus­pect that this suc­cess and praise encour­ages the child to attempt more dif­fi­cult tasks. In fact, how­ev­er, the oppo­site is true: chil­dren whose tal­ent has been praised avoid the chal­lenge of solv­ing a more dif­fi­cult puz­zle and choose a much sim­pler one. How­ev­er, if the effort and learn­ing are praised (“You did well! You have worked hard and learned to make the puz­zles faster and faster ”), most of the chil­dren are curi­ous and open to more dif­fi­cult chal­lenges. The eager­ness to exper­i­ment and the will­ing­ness to learn are not a ques­tion of dis­po­si­tion or tal­ent, but rather a ques­tion of atti­tude. Growth Mind­set is what Car­ol Dweck calls this.

It is no longer suf­fi­cient to have one per­son learn­ing for the orga­ni­za­tion, a Ford or a Sloan or a Wat­son or a Gates. […] The orga­ni­za­tions that will tru­ly excel in the future will be the orga­ni­za­tions that dis­cov­er how to tap peo­ple’s […] capac­i­ty to learn at all lev­els in an orga­ni­za­tion.
Peter Sen­ge, The Fifth Dis­ci­pline

Trans­ferred to the orga­ni­za­tion­al lev­el, this means that it is sim­ply not enough to ask the employ­ees to under­take coura­geous exper­i­ments like in Sil­i­con Val­ley. The path to a learn­ing cul­ture begins with lead­er­ship because lead­er­ship shapes what is appre­ci­at­ed, rec­og­nized, praised and pro­mot­ed in the orga­ni­za­tion. Those who sole­ly pro­mote tal­ent, exper­tise, adher­ence to process­es, avoid mis­takes and hide fail­ure need not com­plain about a lack of courage. The change of cul­ture begins with the empha­sis on learn­ing — in both suc­cess and fail­ure. It is pre­cise­ly this cul­tur­al change, how­ev­er, that will make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in the trans­for­ma­tion of orga­ni­za­tions towards greater agili­ty and adapt­abil­i­ty. Satya Nadel­la, who start­ed an impres­sive change at Microsoft, won­der­ful­ly rec­og­nized and sum­ma­rized this.

Cul­ture is some­thing that needs to adapt and change, and you’ve got to be able to have a learn­ing cul­ture. The intu­ition I got was from observ­ing what hap­pens in schools. I read a book called Mind­set. In there’s this very sim­ple con­cept that Car­ol Dweck talks about, which is if you take two peo­ple, one of them is a learn-it-all and the oth­er one is a know-it-all, the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all in the long run, even if they start with less innate capa­bil­i­ty.

That is true for boys and girls in schools. It’s true for CEOs in their jobs. It’s true for every employ­ee at Microsoft. I need to be able to walk out of here this evening and say, “Where was I too closed-mind­ed, or where did I not show the right kind of atti­tude of growth in my own mind?” If I can get it right, then we’re well on our way to hav­ing the cul­ture we aspire to.
Satya Nadel­la

Stay Current!

You nev­er want to miss an arti­cle on my blog again? With our Newslet­ter you will receive the lat­est arti­cles in your inbox once a week.

Leave a Reply