As 2017 comes to a close many take the time to reflect on the past year and identify areas for improvement and growth. With a growth mindset, which is described as believing your talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others, you are more innovative, collaborative and empowered in your work. A growth mindset takes effort, but the result is a better understanding of who you are and how you can move forward.
I believe that negativity is contagious! Like an aggressive contagion seeking the next victim, it can plague an entire team’s morale. This challenge is often avoided. Harnessing the “growth mindset” I have personally impacted the team that I work on by actively seeking out all the positives and focusing on the challenges as opportunities for growth. When we struggle through something as a group (or as individuals) something magical happens – we come out from it with a valuable lesson or new skill, perhaps a keen sense of awareness. The point is that no matter the situation, it could always be worse. You must take ownership of where you are because without this, you won’t know where you’re going. Likewise, without an understanding of yourself you can never really know anyone else. Be willing to take risks because without risk, there is simply no reward.
It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day activities and forget about personal growth. Many times, we are pushed so hard to be as efficient as possible in the tasks that we are doing that we don’t have time to think about personal growth. This is one of the biggest dis-services we can do to ourselves. If anyone has ever tried to cut wood with a dull saw or ax they know that having a sharp tool is essential. Likewise, we often forget to sharpen our minds because we are too busy sawing away at the daily tasks. Sharpening our minds can have many forms, from reading, watching videos, to public speaking, to experimenting with new technology or methodologies, to just giving yourself quiet time to think and reflect. I encourage everyone to find time for personal growth. It may be helpful to find a colleague or group of colleagues to share the things you learn and discuss concepts further. If you can find a group of people that are passionate about growing in a similar area, you can nudge each other to be better. You may find that a team approach to personal development may help you retain more of what you learn and grow exponentially. Those things that really push you to grow can feel daunting, but if you have someone to tackle these items with, it doesn’t feel like such a reach. Pairing is one of the best ways to share knowledge, and it often leads to creative and innovative solutions.
One technique I use to keep the growth mindset in mind is to learn new skills that I'm not good at. Seeing that initial spurt of improvement is a salient reminder that the growth mindset is real. This is especially obvious when you pick something that you don't have a natural talent for (for me, that's something like drawing). Additionally, I routinely think about the progress I've made in skills that I've mastered. Realizing how bad you used to be at something you're now good at is an excellent reminder that you can grow.
On the teams I am working with I over communicate the value in taking risks. If all you ever do is the standard then by its very nature you can’t be innovating and will slowly, or quickly, be losing a competitive advantage in your market. We are solving complex problems which require us to be learning and part of learning is failing. When I hear pushback like “Then everyone will be doing it differently”, the response is “Yes! They will! That’s called innovation.” If you need a concrete example just look around at the natural selection in evolution. Adaptation comes through slow accidental differences between parent and offspring and over time it creates an advantage over the original. One of the stories from Taiichi Ono (I think…) is something to the effect of “The easiest thing we did was installing the andon cord, the hardest part was getting employees to use it.” As well as encouraging our team members to take risks we need to make sure we create an environment of trust where it is safe to fail. You’ll hear terms like Fail Fast, Fail Often, Move Fast & Break Things, etc. and if we want to cultivate an environment of continuous learning (and risk taking!) we must reinforce that message with our behaviors. Build in time for innovation, build in pairing or cross training, set the standard that we are a learning team or organization and hold each other accountable if you fall into complacency.