If there is one concept that has dominated leadership thinking in recent times, then it is probably the “Growth Mindset” as articulated by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, building on her research on mindsets and their effects on achievement and success.
Over the last year, as I have been working closely with Microsoft, for example, I’ve realised that the Growth Mindset is probably the most important idea that has helped Satya Nadella to define a new culture, a new freedom, and a new vision for his organisation. And to triple its market capitalisation over the initial five years of his leadership, regaining the mantle of world’s most valuable company.
Mindsets of course are soft and conceptual. Dweck has been particularly successful at making this more meaningful through her “what it is/isn’t” diagram, and applying her ideas primarily to children’s education, and then secondly to the minds of business leaders.
The hardest part is to turn a concept of the mind, into a practice of reality … part of the everyday working of an organisation, understanding the implications for processes, behaviours, decision making and performance metrics. and then implementing them not as a fashion, but as a meaningful approach that challenges and changes, enhances and extends, the direction of the business.
Other similar concepts have added, or sometimes confused, the picture.
Neuroscience advances offer a rigour to understanding our brains and behaviours, whilst mindfulness has added a more cult-like aura, converged the yoga studio with the workspace. Its value can be huge, being more aware of yourself and your surroundings, and “seizing the nowness” as opposed to the tendency of many corporate workers to otherwise drift in an isolated, internal vacuum.
More of that later, first let’s consider “mindset” …
Fixed and Growth Mindsets
“The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.” says Dweck.
In her book Mindset she proposes that two fundamental mindsets dominate our thoughts and consequently our actions: the growth and the fixed mindsets. The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are malleable and able to be cultivated through effort. The fixed mindset is based on the belief that your abilities are permanent.
Dweck further analyzes these mindsets and their effects on various domains such as sports, business, relationships, ability, and parenting. She concludes that the growth mindset leads to higher achievement whereas the fixed mindset often leads to early plateaus and lower levels of success.
The Fixed Mindset
Through Dweck’s research, the fixed mindset hampers success and must be avoided in domains where one seeks to find achievement. If we believe that our abilities such as creativity and intelligence cannot be changed, any successes become confirmations of our ingrained skill set and an affirmation of our worthiness. This leads us to avoid failure at all costs in fear of exposing our true selves.
Let’s use a fixed mindset to interpret intelligence. In this system of thought, we believe our intelligence is static, leading us to want to appear intrinsically smart. This can result in: avoiding challenges, giving up easily when faced with obstacles, not giving 100% effort, ignoring criticism, and feeling threatened by the success of others.
If we see life through a fixed mindset:
- We become trapped in a black-and-white world of success and failure.
- We take easier classes in school to maintain our identity as a “straight-A” student.
- We fear effort because it means we’re not good enough.
- We become kings of remedial jobs.
- We surround ourselves with yes-men.
- We avoid social interactions.
- We blame others and dodge confrontation.
- We reject change.
- We embrace ideologies without questioning them.
- We believe in an idealized “true love” where our partner is instantaneously and perfectly compatible.
- We avoid responsibility.
- We play it safe.
The Growth Mindset
Believing that our qualities can be cultivated leads to different fundamental thoughts and actions. This mindset changes the implication of failure from unworthy to opportunity. Failure becomes a minor setback and a chance to learn. This growth-oriented worldview places deep meaning in effort, learning, and reaching one’s potential.
Using a growth mindset, let’s approach intelligence again. Unlike the fixed mindset, we believe intelligence can be developed, leading us to want to learn. A desire for learning often results in: embracing challenges, working through obstacles, valuing effort, learning from criticism, and finding inspiration in the success of others.
If we have a growth mindset:
- We live in a world of potentials, where focused learning and effort will lead to a “good” life.
- We embrace challenges.
- We value effort’s role in achievement.
- We listen to opposing viewpoints.
- We aren’t afraid to let go of false presuppositions.
- We face our fears.
- We compromise when necessary.
- We take responsibility.
- We embrace change.
Of course, this is an abstract concept that needs thoughtful implementation, to shape the attitudes and behaviours, choices and metrics, that will deliver it in reality. Here are some useful links:
Going beyond fixed and growth mindsets
Whilst the opposing descriptions of these two mindsets is helpful in bringing some clarity to what they are, the mind is not quite so binary. James Anderson calls the reality, more of a “Mindset Continuum.”
When we see mindsets as a dichotomy, we misjudge the subtlety and complexity of Dweck’s work. We may also misunderstand what we must do to change our Mindsets. Students can’t instantly “have” a Growth Mindset. We can’t expect our teaching strategies to suddenly result in students taking on challenges, embracing effort and learning from their mistakes.
Rather, our goal is to help students become increasingly growth oriented. It is more realistic and helpful to expect that as students become more growth oriented, they will persist a bit longer. They will take on a bit more of a challenge, put in a little more effort, and respond more positively to mistakes. Their progress towards a Growth Mindset is gradual.
Furthermore, if we view Mindsets as a dichotomy, we run the significant risk of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. Students at different stages along the continuum have different worldviews – therefore, they require different teaching strategies. A student with a Fixed Mindset will respond and act differently to a student with a Low Growth Mindset, so we must adapt our teaching methods accordingly.
In other words, a Growth Mindset is not a declaration, it’s a journey – one that involves small, progressive shifts in thinking, rather than huge leaps. Most people aren’t Fixed or Growth, but somewhere in between.
As Dweck says, “Nobody has a Growth Mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of Fixed and Growth Mindsets. You could have a predominant Growth Mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a Fixed Mindset trait.”
The right mindset for business leaders
What matters most, in a business context, is understanding how does all this translate to the mindset of a business leader, and ultimately to everyone within an organisation culture. What are the implications for leadership development, for the role and behaviours of leaders in organisation, and the ability of organisations to focus, develop and succeed in today’s world of market complexity and relentless change.
In my forthcoming book “Extraordinary: How to step up to lead the future of business” I take on this challenge, defining the new mindset for business leaders.
It builds on all of the above, but also with some added insight from the rapidly evolving field of business applied neuroscience. In particular it looks at what it takes for a business leaders to make sense of their complex environment to compete today, but even more importantly, to succeed tomorrow.
Too much leadership thinking has focused on “today” … the ability to deliver operationally, to engage employees and customers in the present, the organisational status quo. Yet in today’s business environment, the dynamics of constant change – driving both challenge and opportunity – is the major dynamic which leaders need to manage.
In particular they become more focused on where they are going, rather than where they are. That requires sense making, to find the best opportunities for future growth, and to dispense with incrementalism, and instead make more dramatic, disruptive choices. This drives a much greater focus on future, rather than just growth – revolutionary beyond evolutionary.
Time to embrace a “future mindset” … Unlock your Einstein dreams and Picasso passion … Embrace your Mandela courage and Ghandi spirit. Be more curious, be more intuitive, be more human. Ask more questions. Don’t be afraid to have audacious ideas, to challenge the old models of success, and turn future ambitions into practical profitable reality.
- What is a mindset?
- Hit Refresh: Microsoft’s “growth mindset”
- The New Leadership Mindset: Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity
Leaders inspire people, performance and progress.
Inspiration comes from a positive outlook on a confusing and uncertain world. It comes from being able to make sense of often-bewildering change, and to have a clarity and confidence about what the future holds. It is not just about great words, it must be real – authentic, human and desirable.
Leaders enrich, engage and enable their people, and their businesses, to go further.
Too often we see leadership revert to its classic pyramidal model, where the leader stands at the top of the organisation, encouraging his (hopefully, just as frequently, her) people forwards. They have learnt not to command in the old way, but they still see themselves as coordinators from on high, and controllers of the organisation machine.
But leadership is more than that today, and increasingly not that. The leader gives the organisation energy and purpose, sets a style that becomes a culture, and the hands-on impetus to continually think different and do better. As a business we could do anything, enter any market or sector. So organisations requires a more active style of ongoing leadership – better choices, clarity of navigation, and momentum.
Leaders catalyse, connect, communicate and coach.
Most importantly, they amplify potential.
Today there is much to be anxious about when we get up each day. Uncertainty reigns as rapid change disrupts expectations and social norms. The old institutions are fractured and economic conditions fluctuate widely. Threats abound, from climate change to cyberterrorism. The relentless pace can make you want to curl up in a corner, wary of what might come next.
Or you look ahead, through the chaos and complexity, ready to build a better tomorrow.
Here are a few inspirations:
Fast Company magazine recently summarised 10 attributes for leaders of today, seeking more courage and confidence, to see the future with more optimism.
1. Move quick
When Ford CEO Jim Hackett talks about leading the 115-year-old company that he took over in 2017, he acknowledges the need to speed up its metabolism—to try more new things. It’s one reason he’s endorsed fast prototyping at Ford’s new Greenfield Labs in Palo Alto. If Ford wants to withstand the revolutions of autonomous driving and next-generation engines, Hackett knows, its culture has to move beyond methodical and reliable. But Hackett also isn’t saying what Ford’s precise business model will be after these revolutions play out. And he’s okay with that uncertainty. He’s too impatient to stand still, yet deeply patient about selecting an ultimate course of action.
2. Take time to think
Someone once told me, “Before you say something in anger, count backward from 100.” Keeping calm is one of the hardest challenges in times of stress. It is also the route to gaining perspective. When Questlove talks about his love of silence—and how it serves as a creative engine for him—he’s definitely onto something. The sound of silence is the sound of someone thinking.
3. Have a point of view
One of my favorite verses from the musical Hamilton is the lead character’s admonition of Aaron Burr early in the play: “If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?” As leaders and as businesses, we are defined by the positions we take on the most difficult issues. To Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, that means pledging to hire 100,000 “opportunity youth.” To soccer star Abby Wambach, that means support for both U.S. patriotism and Colin Kaepernick. As Nike’s Hannah Jones puts it, “A brand that doesn’t stand for something is no longer a brand worth working for.” This is not a moment to be shy.
4. Be a force for change
Government officials may claim to be stewards of our social contract, but other institutions provide their own leadership as well. “Think about the sustainability movement,” says Nike’s Jones. “You fly across the world and you see windmill farms everywhere. It doesn’t matter what the U.S. administration is doing; we are all moving to renewable energy.” From education to gender identity norms, businesses play a central role in advancing global culture. Forward-thinking leaders embrace that responsibility with conviction.
5. Don’t forget, you’re human
In our tech-filled world of always-on connectivity, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, direct interaction provides the ultimate competitive advantage. As Ideo’s Fred Dust argues, face-to-face engagement is a dwindling art. Yet it is empathy that unlocks so much capacity and creativity. Whether in a one-on-one situation or a one-to-many forum, listening is an essential skill. As Brandless CEO Tina Sharkey says, “People are craving human interaction. That’s going to move the needle more than any technology you could ever dream up.”
6. Cross the line
Traditional demarcations of “generations”—what differentiates one age cohort from another—are becoming muddy, as experience takes precedence over age. While seasoned executives still have wisdom to share with young talents—Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood calls the training of young people “probably the most important mark I hope to leave”—modern mentorship is a two-way street. West Elm’s Doug Guiley admits to leaning on his 12-year-old daughter for perspective on his brand. He’s hardly alone in appreciating the fresh eyes and intuition of digital natives.
7. Respect complexity
Even as businesses work to project confidence in a competitive world, we all have to get comfortable with a higher-than-usual degree of messiness if we want to iterate at the pace of global change. “We can’t think about being perfect, we just have to keep moving forward,” says Dell Technologies’ Elizabeth Gore. Whether the topic is bitcoin or AI, we have to accept that our knowledge is incomplete, that lifelong learning is required. Actor Kate Hudson, who cofounded athleisure brand Fabletics, groans at the prospect of robots invading the retail experience—yet she acknowledges that her company will inevitably need to reckon with them.
8. Embrace differences
Diversity is not just a social issue; it is a business requirement. Having “a lot of different people in the room,” says Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris, unlocks broader ideas and opportunities. What’s more, says Professor Michael Kimmel, diversity must be aligned with inclusion, breaking down silos and freeing voices. Whether it’s TV writer Lena Waithe discussing her emotional, Emmy-winning coming-out episode of Master of None, or drag queens Sasha Velour, Milk, and BibleGirl sparking dialogue around how we talk about gender with our kids, uncomfortable topics help us all to grow.
9. Raise your expectations
Millennials “are getting into positions of leadership faster than we did,” says Morgan Stanley’s Harris. “That is going to cause companies that have been around a long time to change.” A parallel transformation is under way in the consumer marketplace. Sundial’s Bonin Bough uses the term “promiscuous” to describe consumers, not in a derogatory sense, but to underscore how fluid our relationships with products and brands—and employers—have become. That sets the bar higher for everyone, to be more consistent, more responsive, more essential. Yesterday’s achievements just don’t hold the same weight; today’s best practices are tomorrow’s table stakes.
10. Do it, don’t just talk about it
To hear Kimbal Musk and Dan Barber argue about the future of food is like glimpsing two parallel visions of the future. Will we grow produce in vertical farms within cities, as Musk would have it? Or will we return to family farming that balances ecology, sustainability, and health, as Barber prefers? Neither course would be considered likely by most analysts, and yet that skepticism bothers the two of them not at all. The fact that their visions are difficult to execute is part of what drives them. They take nothing for granted—and they put everything they have into remaking this vital sector. In the process, they open the door to a better way for all of us.
Elon Musk has become the Thomas Edison of our times. Whilst his part role in the success of PayPal may not have transformed our lives, it funded his imagination, and the possibilities to change our futures in ways that science fiction writers could not even dream of.
Go to his SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and every employee has a very clear sense of purpose. “We’re going to Mars” is the unanimous first words. Within the next 7 years.
I often say that the next 10 years will see more change than the last 250 years. Anyone who wants to get a sense of how real that could be, should read Elon Musk’s occasional letters to the world. His most recent letter, in July 2016, captures his bold ambition and life-changing plans.
On the future, he says: “There’s a fundamental difference, if you look into the future, between a humanity that is a space-faring civilization, that’s out there exploring the stars … compared with one where we are forever confined to Earth until some eventual extinction event.”
Of course, many of his projects including travelling to Mars sound like fantasies. He disagrees, saying “If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it.”
Last week he took another step forwards, unveiling plans for a new spacecraft that he says would allow his company SpaceX to colonise Mars, build a base on the moon, and allow commercial travel to anywhere on Earth in under an hour.
The spacecraft is currently still codenamed the BFR (Big Fucking Rocket – not sure why he feels he needs the F word?!). He says the company hopes to have the first launch by 2022, and then have four flying to Mars by 2024.
Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide Australia on Friday, he said the company had figured out a way to pay for the project. The key, he said, was to “cannibalise” all of SpaceX’s other products. Instead of operating a number of smaller spacecrafts to deliver satellites into orbit and supply the International Space Station, he said the BFR would eventually be used to complete all of its missions.
SpaceX has been working feverishly on reusable spacecraft designs, now completing 16 successful landings in a row of its Falcon9 rocket. That was the key to allowing the ambitious design to be economic, he said. “It’s really crazy that we build these sophisticated rockets and then crash them every time we fly,” he said. “This is mad.”
Musk said the cost of fuel is low, and so if the crafts were fully reusable, the costs of flights drop dramatically. He said the company had already started building the system, with construction of the first ship to begin next year. “I feel fairly confident that we can complete the ship and be ready for a launch in five years,” he said.
By 2024, Musk said he wanted to fly four ships to Mars, two of which would have crew in them. By that stage, they planned to be able to build a plant on the surface of Mars that would be able to synthesise fuel for return journeys back from Mars.
For a trip to Mars, he said the craft would be able to hold about 100 people in 40 cabins. But he said once the ship is built, it could be used to travel on Earth too. He did not estimate the cost of such flights, but said that most long-distance flights could be completed in 30 minutes, and you could get anywhere on Earth in under an hour.
“If we’re building this thing to go to the Moon and Mars then why not go to other places on earth as well,” he said. He said the size of the payload – which would allow items with a diameter of just under 9m – means larger satellites could be delivered to orbit in a single mission.
At a presentation at last years IAC conference in Mexico, Musk described the earlier iteration of the system with more details about the costs. For that earlier version, he said the cost of sending a person on the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System would be around $200,000. Musk suggested that multiple space rockets could take 100 people each over 40 to 100 years until a million people lived there.
“It was much too big and fantastical,” said Robert Zubrin, president and founder of Mars Society, a non-profit that promotes human settlement of Mars.
Musk’s proposal for getting a million people to Mars as quickly as possible was, Zubrin said, “like a D-Day landing”. Instead, Musk should be thinking of sending just ten people to set up an agricultural base, Zubrin said.
“Then send 20 more people and so forth to develop capabilities to make steel and eventually create institutions like schools.”
“He typically goes into something with over-reach,” Zubrin added, referring to Musk’s tendency to overpromise with many of his projects, including delivery dates of Teslas and the Hyperloop. “But he’s able to take criticism and adjust things to become achievable,” said Zubrin. “If he reduces his launch system from 500 tons to 150 tons or less, that would show he’s serious and would move him from the realm of vision to the realm of engineering.”
Lockheed Martin also presented an idea for a manned Mars mission at the Adelaide event. The aerospace company outlined a six-person space station called Mars Base Camp that it thinks could be orbiting the red planet by 2028 along with a lander that could descend to the surface. Astronauts on the space station could carry out scientific research and exploration work, including operating rovers and identifying landing spots on the surface of the planet for larger vehicles.
The bigger picture of Musk’s world is dominated by Tesla, as well as SpaceX and Hyperloop. In a recent interview (TED, May 2017) he talked about the many projects, and what drives him:
Hyperloop One first test runs on the SFO-LAX loop:
SpaceX Falcon 9 landing, launching and relanding:
Tesla 3, sustainable driving becomes mainstream:
Neuralink, his latest venture, fusing the human brain and AI:
And a fun Late Show interview asks is he a super villain?