This week I attended an internal Microsoft conference. The little group I spend my week with was fairly diverse – largely American but with Finnish, Israeli, and Indian participants; male and female; some from large cities other from small towns. This group broke the cardinal rule of polite conversation and discussed religion, politics, and diversity at length…..without antagonism! How did we manage this? We give credit to the growth mindset fostered at Microsoft and essential to survival in a cloud-first world.
For those of you not familiar with the concept of a growth mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck describes it as follows:
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.[
As babies we are born with a growth mindset. We are constantly trying new things, right or wrong, eager to learn and improve. The result is important (i.e. learning to walk and talk) but so is the journey – think of parents applauding every attempt to stand, crawl, and walk for months in addition to the final accomplishment of walking. Over the years though, we are retrained by society to focus on results or accomplishments. Kids won’t raise their hand in class because having the wrong answer is worse than no answer. Kids don’t try out for sports because they are worried they won’t make the team. Without correction, these kids become adults with a fixed mindset – more focused on how they are perceived than actually being intelligent. Often these individuals come to believe they have all the required answers and are unwilling to accept additional information that challenges their views.
My Personal Journey
For me, three key items helped me transition to a growth mindset. This was a very natural journey for me, but also difficult. So much of my self-worth and identity was wrapped up in “being right” and I had to sacrifice my ego to grow.
1. Having conclusive evidence that I wasn’t the smartest. When one friend scored a 1600 on the SAT and another’s science fair project on chaos theory placed at state (in 7th grade!), I had to accept there is often more than one “smart person” in a room. If your ego prevents you from learning from others you can’t have a growth mindset; you must decouple your ego from your “smart person” status.
2. Dating a person who challenged me. When I began dating my now-husband, my ego took a huge hit. He kept beating at games, trivia, and even remembering key data points. I was used to be “always right” and was forced to realize that maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought.
3. Talking with children. Kids are endlessly curious and it’s infectious. When my son was a preschooler he asked me, “what is the difference between a seed and a nut?” After a brief pause I replied, “I don’t know. Let’s look that up.” Children are a constant reminder that adults still have so much to learn about our world and how things work. Just because we are out of school does not mean we are done learning.
How does this impact you?
All of us live in a technology-driven society that constantly changes. And it’s not just the technology that changes, it’s anything that technology touches…which is EVERYTHING. Doctors, mechanics, parents, teachers all take continuing education. Having a fixed mindset will at best hold you back and at worst lead to poor decisions that could have deadly consequences. Having a growth mindset allows you to take advantage of the latest discoveries, innovations, and all the benefits they offer.
A growth mindset is key to succeeding information technology. Standards from five years ago are fading, those from ten years ago are archaic, and those from 15+ years ago are almost completely gone. We must build on the past as we reach toward the future. We must be willing to try new technologies and IT strategies. Do new paradigms and technologies scare you? If so, take time to evaluate why. One of the common reasons is fear — fear of change, fear of uncertainty, fear of becoming obsolete. With a growth mindset, these concerns are opportunities to grow not possibilities to fear.
My advice? Keep trying new things and keep learning!
- Learn a new skill (for work or fun)
- Travel or watch programming that exposes you to different cultures and ways of life
- Listen and learn from those around you
- Surround yourself with smart people
- Go outside your comfort zone
Only be learning and taking risks will you stay afloat. By learning continually, you can thrive.