21st Century Mindsets for Learning, Working, and Leading


Somehow Tom Barrett from Australia and I ran into each other on Twitter two months ago.  I clicked through to his blog, The Curious Creative, read and bookmarked several of his posts in our Diigo library, and follow him on Twitter to stay aware of what he is working on because of its value for me. Among the many issues he has raised is the importance of mindsets, toolsets, and skillsets for learning design. Here is Barrett’s definition of mindset which I really like.

Mindset (How you See, Perceive, View) – Means a set of beliefs, a way of thinking, a habitual mental attitude that determines somebody’s behaviour and outlook and how s/he will interpret and respond to situations. Without a change in mindset, the world cannot be viewed differently.

The definition shows how our set outlooks can box us into more of the same. But it doesn’t have to be so.

Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats in their HBR article, “Why Organizations Don’t Learn,” draw on Carol Dweck’s work to distinguish between the limitations and gains of fixed and growth mindsets.

People who have a fixed mindset believe that intelligence and talents are largely a matter of genetics; you either have them or you don’t. They aim to appear smart at all costs and see failure as something to be avoided, fearing it will make them seem incompetent. A fixed mindset limits the ability to learn because it makes individuals focus too much on performing well.

By contrast, people who have a growth mindset seek challenges and learning opportunities. They believe that no matter how good you are, you can always get better through effort and practice. They don’t see failure as a sign of inadequacy and are happy to take risks.

Growth mindsets at work

Growth mindsets at work

Gino and Staats explore how growth mindsets lead to learning from past performance and hiring based on human potential for development. They encourage leaders to “tolerate failure and insist that it be openly discussed” in After Action Reviews (AARs) in order for their organizations to “develop new capabilities … take appropriate risks.”  The article offers other methods for leaders to instill appreciative learning practices among their employees for improved performance.

Still, a big stumbling block to growth mindsets is that many people do not want to reveal knowledge or skill gaps.  In his “Uncertainties, mysteries, and how to nurture your negative capability” blog post, Barrett says that:

We draw a degree of situational steadiness from the fact and reason we can rely on. We see this type of reaction in others as we work with them to move on to new practices or technologies. Especially technologies. The comfort in the known is often too tempting to make the leap and embrace something new and the physical reality of technology is even more challenging as it is harder to ignore and move off of your desk than an ideological concept. Letting these go and embracing the state of change and the unknown that surrounds us is counter intuitive and it takes practice to fully accept.…Accepting that we will experience the uncertainty of such times is a great first step for us personally and within our teams, whether learners or leaders.

We can stand on what we know and be left behind.  Or we can adopt growth mindsets to succeed in a world of people linked by digital technology. Here are two more examples of how growth mindsets coupled with internet-accessible resources lead to tremendous results.

Networks and Communities

Our esteemed organizational learning and performance colleague Harold Jarche was asked to do a client work project in 2012: to “simplify the complexity” of aligning existing IT platforms with a new learning & performance system enterprise-wide. He said he “was a bit nervous, not knowing where to begin,” because “I did not have a clue.” Here is how he proceeded:

…I put my faith in my knowledge networks and communities of practice … I went out to my networks, looking for as wide and diverse opinions as possible. I also checked my collections of social bookmarks and blog posts … As I found a few models and ideas, I tested them out with some trusted colleagues … Over several weeks, many conversations, and a lot of searching and probing, I developed a working model that the client accepted….In the end, I realized I was only as good as my network. This is the new world of work today….The network era rewards people who can bring their communities of practice and professional networks to bear on complex problems. Nobody’s individual toolbox is big enough. [emphasis added]

Open Source Product Development

Sometimes people’s beliefs in proprietary product development hold them back.  However, the open source model is leading to extraordinary innovation as researchers and developers organize to work together regardless of organization or ownership. In case readers are not familiar with the term, open source “refers to something that can be modified and shared because its design is publicly accessible….Open source projects, products, or initiatives are those that embrace and celebrate open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community development” (OpenSource.com).

NPR TED Radio Hour host Guy Raz interviewed five TED speakers in October to explore “how open source is changing how we build, collaborate and govern.” I started listening as an interview—“How Can we Open Source Exploring Our Oceans?”—with David Lang started with David describing a cave in California that he and a partner wanted to explore.  But they needed a ROV—Remote Operated Vehicle—to enter places that they couldn’t go themselves. They did not have thousands of dollars to buy a professional-quality ROV. David explained “So we did what anyone would do, we asked the internet for help.”  Specifically, they set up OpenRov.com to seek assistance to build a device.  For several months, the only conversation in the forums was between David and his partner.  Then the hobbyists and professional ocean engineers who had experience with underwater vehicles started participating, leading not only to the development of a low-cost, effective ROV in about eight months time but … you’ll just have to listen to the <10 minute interview for the rest of the story or watch his <5 minute Ted Talk below.

When they started, David and his partner did not know about computers, electronics or even how to solder metal.  But David believes that “There is a special magic to not knowing what you’re doing and being honest about that.”  [emphasis added] People come to help.

I hope this post prompts readers to adopt growth mindsets more often. Please let us know how this post affects your mindset for learning and working in the 21st century.

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Empty box picture from Humusak at Pixabay

Children in nature picture from Pezibear at Pixabay

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