What if the perceptions we have of our strengths hold us bank? Could the very fact that we know we’re good at something cause us to stagnate?
This week I am exploring some specific issues from the book How Google Works. This is the fourth (and final) installment of the series. Part one deals with the always-important topic of company culture, part two covers our obligation to dissent, and part three poses some interesting questions we should ask ourselves. Today I’ll touch upon the concept of a “growth mindset”, as described in the book.
Eric and Jonathan hammer throughout the book about the importance for a business to attract employees who are “smart creatives”, who I will define as “knowledge workers with an attitude”. There are a number of elements that define the smart creative: they are analytically smart, business smart, competitive smart, and user smart. They are curious, open to risk, collaborative, thorough, and great at communication. In short, these are people with opinions and a focus on making things great for the user, rather than sucking up to the boss.
One of the hallmarks of the smart creative is a demonstrated ability to learn, and a love of learning. There are many people we know who are wicked smart, but collapse in the face of change and stress. They don’t like the roller coaster of new products, new prototypes, new customers, and raw feedback. They don’t like the unknown. They’d rather listen to Barry Manilow music than live in a culture of ambiguity (apologies to those of you who consider “Mandy” to be your favorite song).
Google, as you would expect, look for these smart creatives, and as I wrote about earlier, smart creatives attract other smart creatives, thus improving the agility and creativity of the entire company. I was thinking about smart creatives while I was reading when I came upon a section where the authors talk about how smart creatives love to learn, and “have the smarts to handle massive change and the character to love it”. This is what captured my attention:
Psychologist Carol Dweck has another term for it. She calls it a ‘growth mindset’. If you believe that the qualities defining you are carved in stone, you will be stuck trying to prove them over and over again, regardless of the circumstances. But if you have a growth mindset, you believe the qualities that define you can be modified and cultivated through effort. You can change yourself; you can adapt; in fact, you are more comfortable and do better when you are forced to do so.
Often this sort of thinking is directed towards our weaknesses, where we are exhorted to embrace the fact that we can change/improve. To that, of course, I say “great!”.
But the interesting thought to me relates to our perceived strengths. Our perceptions of our strengths are probably accurate since they are usually reinforced by a number of external feedback mechanisms like compliments and annual reviews. But what if that knowledge can cause us to apply a tacit check-mark next to that trait in our mind? Could that sap a certain type of creative energy to further refine and apply those strengths to the world around us?
Have you assigned a mental check-mark next to the qualities you believe define you in a way that is limiting to your effectiveness?
How are you a smart creative?