As the school year draws to a close, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my son’s teacher at the beginning of the year. The teachers and staff spent last summer studying a book on mindset and were planning on using its principles in their teaching and interactions with one another. I was intrigued, because I had just read the book myself and found it insightful for my work with federal agencies and relevant to how I approached the many thorny issues that confront a trade association. Carol S. Dweck, PhD in her 2008 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, lays out the differences between a growth and a fixed mindset and how it impacts your view of a problem, setbacks, your own abilities and how you approach business.
In a nutshell, a fixed mindset person will see their abilities as carved in stone -- you are smart or you are not smart, good at math or not good at math, etc. While a growth mindset person would see human qualities such as intelligence or personality as things that can be cultivated or developed. Dweck explains in her book that when you operate from a fixed mindset you have an urgency to prove yourself over and over, and paradoxically will avoid a challenge that you might fail at because a failure would threaten your view of yourself. In contrast, a growth mindset individual won’t focus on hiding deficiencies, but rather overcoming them. My son’s school put up a sign “Yet…” in each classroom to emphasize to the students that they were a work in progress and began praising the students’ hard work toward a project rather than focus solely on outcomes. Their objective was to guide the students toward a growth mindset.
In my own work negotiating with federal officials, I found that knowing the person’s mindset helped me figure out how to approach them on an issue. A highly fixed mindset person could take personal offense to a request to change their decisions if approached too directly. While, I found a more growth oriented official didn’t personally identify with their agency’s policies and were open to discussion. Industries and companies also operate under different leadership mindsets. Growth mindset companies can come up with creative solutions, tend to focus on collaborating as a team and growing their people, and encourage dissenting views.
How an industry responds to a sudden change in market conditions or the regulatory landscape can also be effected by its mindset. Often when a major shift occurs (like the dramatic and painful shutdown of credit during the great recession) some companies are slow to react and continue to attempt to do business the same way -- failing in the process. In contrast, more responsive companies quickly take advantage of the situation to innovate and encourage staff to try new ideas, fail at them (learning in the process) and then try something new yet again. Innovation can be born out of the constraints of a recession or a new regulatory framework or tough market conditions. But innovation can’t occur if there is too much fear of failure. It is a difficult balance.
The International Wood Products Association (IWPA) strives to view the many issues confronting the wood products industry as opportunities for growth, creative thinking and most importantly as a chance to innovate. However, we are also a work in progress, learning how to be better innovators every day. How about you? What is your mindset? Let me know what you think by dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
or via Twitter @CLSquires.