Mindset Book Cover

Today we rush into Chapter 4 in Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (buy your copy and read along).  In Chapter 4, Dweck hits a home run by reflecting on how mindsets translate into action in the sports arena (thus the sports allusions).  Sports stories are one the most used metaphors in a business environment.  I bet that you can’t you to go to two meetings in any corporate environment without hearing a project likened to the exploits of sports teams or athletes. This an easy metaphor theme because most everyone has been exposed to some form of sports or at least a story about sports before they take a job. In Chapter 4, Dr. Dweck, scores (I can’t help myself) by using the exploits of athletes and sports teams to further illustrate the differences and impact mindsets deliver.

Chapter 4 begins with the story of Billy Beane. Mr. Beane was a baseball player that was drafted and came through the minor leagues being viewed as a “natural” (someone that has all the talent in the world and will be a star).  Unfortunately, at the time, he had a fixed mindset, and when completion got tough he was not able to deal with the fact talent alone would not carry him forward.  The realization that he had to shift his mindset later led to the concepts discussed in the book and movie, Moneyball.  The statistical analysis Beane helped pioneer focused on identifying players with attributes, including many of the attributes we would recognize as a growth mindset, rather than raw talent. 

Chapter 4 goes on to highlight a wide range of other legendary athletes that illustrate that hard work and discipline are very powerful tools. All of the highlighted athletes became legends not just because they had awesome natural talent, but also because their mindset allowed them to see to benefit from learning from setbacks and hard work. It might be possible to make the argument that someone with a growth mindset can’t help learning from their experiences.  Something it took Billy Beane a long time to learn.  The top line takeaway of this chapter is that success is rarely just a reflection of ability.

An important reflection in the chapter is that humans seem to have a natural bias toward the belief that great athletes (and by extension other forms of genius) shouldn’t require effort to become the top of their field. This flies (another sports’ metaphor) in the face of the evidence that most “naturals” have only gotten to the top through discipline and learning from setbacks.  Dweck provides several examples ranging from Babe Ruth, Maury Wills, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Wilma Rudolph. A quote from Malcolm Gladwell is used to drive the point home, “People prize natural endowment over earned ability.”

Adversity is a feedback mechanism.  One of the descriptions of the behavior of Agile teams is that they pursue feedback (sometimes called running toward feedback) so that the team can learn how to change its behavior to deliver more value and customer satisfaction. Without a mindset that seeks feedback from even minor adversities, when you hit a major roadblock you may not be able to deal with it.

A person’s character (related to effort and discipline) is at least a partial reflection of the mindset the person has adopted.  The examples provided by Dr. Dweck in this chapter illustrate how the two mindsets help shape character.  Over and over, athletes with growth mindsets are better at dealing with adversity because they see setbacks as a tool to learn. In scenarios where top athletes don’t have a growth mindset, Dweck provides examples of how their inability to deal with negative feedback leads to failure.  Two athletes used to highlight the problems of fixed mindset were Pedro Martinez (baseball pitcher who imploded in playoffs against the New York Yankees) and John McEnroe (just one tantrum from YouTube).  While both athletes had their moment in the sun, I think we could ask just how good could they be if they had a growth mindset. Dweck contrasts the character of these two athletes with the character of Pete Sampras.  When asked how he could rally back to win after being at match point and down two sets (men’s championship tennis is typically the best of 5 sets) indicated he used adversity he faced overcome to remind himself about what possible and what he was capable of achieving.  With champions, when the going gets tough the tough get going. The examples in the book cherry pick, the most easily recognizable stars however even if mindsets don’t explain all variance in performance, mindset explain a large proportion.  

In this chapter the point that how we deal with feedback and whether we seek out feedback loops is a predictor of eventual success.  People with a fixed mindset eschew feedback and view setbacks as being victimized by outside sources.  When you are a victim it easy to decide that you do not need to take responsibility for your ability and control of your motivation.

Chapter 4 – From a Coach’s Perspective

Transforming a group or organization requires understanding the overall cultural mindset of the organization being changed.  Organizations often have a bias towards one mindset or the other.  For example, very early in my career, I worked for a firm that manufactured and sold junior ready to wear. At the time the organization had become the largest firm in the world in its category. They had achieved over a decade of phenomenal year-over-year sales increases. I recently found a transcript from one of their major sales meetings as things began to stagnate (they later collapsed).  It was amazing to see the evidence of how the firm rejected feedback from clients and successes described with “I” words rather than words that were inclusive of the whole team needed to deliver value to the clients and customers.  Words are an indicator of mindset both at an individual level and at an organizational level.  As you consider a path for a transformation, listen to how is performance is described in the organization. If these conversations don’t happen in the natural course of an assessment, illicit stories about performance and projects.  The words that are used will give you a strong indication of mindset.  For example, does the word “I” get used or the word “we” when describing a project?  Do people describe their identity though outcomes or effort (If I win I’ll be somebody if I lose I’ll be nobody)?

Identifying mindsets can be an important change management tool.  Change leaders can use mindsets to filter people who can be trailblazers and/or early adopters for the concepts being put forward in the transformation.

At the team level, listening is also applicable.  Use techniques like storytelling to elicit the markers of mindset.  I use this technique occasionally in retrospectives or when asked to help a team deal with behaviors that are impacting a project.  In the short term having a grasp on someone’s mindset is useful for knowing how to relate to the person and how they will react in certain situations. For a leader knowing a person’s mindset can be used to help a team member to accept the work that fits their temperament.  In the longer run, knowing which mindset a person emulates can help a coach to provide mentoring and training that can shift that mindset (if needed).

Previous Entries of the re-read of Mindset: