Four years ago we wrote about Growth Mindset, in our Management Thinkers series. We profiled the originator of the idea, Carol Dweck, and introduced the subject.
If there was any concern then that Growth Mindset may be little more than a fad, further research has only strengthened Dweck’s early conclusions. So, it seems timely to return to the topic.
While this article stands alone, I would recommend you to review the earlier article first. It’s good context. Because, to avoid repeating it, we’re going to use this article to look at how you can put the Big Idea of Growth Mindset to work in your workplace.
The world changes fast, and to keep up, you need to be learning new stuff all the time. And some of that needs to be from a large and complex body of knowledge. Yet, as a working manager, your time is at a premium. So is there any way you can create accelerated learning?
The answer is yes. Over many years, we have accumulated a broad and eclectic body of knowledge about how we learn. It combines experience, practical psychology, and neuroscience. And practitioners bring this all together under the banner of Accelerated Learning.
There is one idea that can increase your effectiveness exponentially. And that’s not a boast: it’s mathematically precise. It’s the concept of marginal gains.
Sometimes a big idea seems new, because lots of people are talking about it. But in fact, this one is a very old idea. Everyone is talking about marginal gains because this old idea has had one more recent and stunning demonstration.
What makes the idea of Marginal Gains so interesting to us, is the way it ties together a number of other big ideas.
Chip and Dan Heath have a writing style that turns important ideas into simple formulations, and illustrates them with compelling case studies. Their three books (to date) are all best-sellers and each is well-worth reading for any manager, professional, or entrepreneur.
Of the three, the first is not only the one that made their name, but the one that, for me, has the stickiest ideas: Made to Stick.
Chip Heath is a graduate of Texas A&M University where he studied Industrial Engineering. He went on to do a PhD in psychology at Stanford University. He is there today, as Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Graduate School of Business, having also held academic posts at The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (1991 to 97) and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University (1997-2000).
Dan Heath has a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has been a researcher for the Harvard Business School and also co-founded an innovative academic publisher, Thinkwell, whch provides school level textbooks. He now works at Duke University, as a Senior Fellow at The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), where he also founded the Change Academy.
The Heath Brothers’ Books
Chip and Dan Heath have written three books together:
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007)
Each of them describes a series of steps for being effective in doing something – communicating ideas, making change, and taking decisions. I strongly recommend you to read these books – I have gained a lot from each of them. Here, all I’ll do is summarise the main content.
Made to Stick
Why is it that some ideas circulate easily? People like to share them and, when they do, the ideas are memorable, compelling and soon become pervasive. They seem to be almost made to stick.
If we can understand the answer, perhaps we can also make our own ideas sticky. This is the substance of the Heath’s ideas, which they present in a handy acronym: SUCCESs.
Simple: We need to simplify our ideas by whittling away every superfluous detail to find their core, which we can then communicate to others.
Unexpected: One way to get attention is with surprise, and then we can hold that attention by stimulating curiosity.
Concrete: Real stories and examples make our ideas solid. Abstract theory is the enemy of engagement with your ideas.
Credible: People need to believe your idea for it to stick, which means giving them examples they can relate to, demonstrating your authority, and providing ways they can access proof for themselves.
Emotional: We make choices and remember ideas, when they trigger powerful emotions, so you need to demonstrate what’s in it for your audience, in terms of self-interest and emotional payback.
Stories: We are story-telling creatures, and we use stories to guide us in how to respond to situations. They make things real and inspire us.
One of the key roles for managers is to make changes in our organisations. But it is fiendishly difficult. The Heaths argue that the reason is a conflict that’s built into our brains, between our rational mind and our emotional mind. This idea will be familiar to readers of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow.
The Heaths use the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant is the powerful emotional aspect of our brain, which can easily take us where it’s going anyway, while the rider is our rational side that needs to motivate the elephant to go in the right direction. They offer a three way prescription to:
Direct the rider
Motivate the elephant
Shape the path
Direct the Rider
Here, we have to find out what works and repeat it, discover specific steps that will get people where you need them to go, and create a direction to go and a reason to go there.
Motivate the Elephant
We don’t do things because we know they are right, we do them because they feel right. So we need to appeal to people’s emotions as well as their reason. We also need to make change easy, by presenting small, simple steps. Finally, they advocate instilling a growth mindset.
Shape the Path
Change people’s environment to shift behaviours and make the changes feel easier. Then turn the new behaviours into habits, by making repetition easy. Finally, use successes to spread the ideas and engage others.
Back to Kahneman! Our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities. We jump to conclusions and then become overconfident that we’re right. We look for confirming evidence and disregard other information that conflicts with our prejudices. We’re distracted by emotions – which make emotionally resonant ideas sticky.
In short, we’re rubbish at making good decisions!
And knowing it doesn’t help, ‘any more than knowing that we are nearsighted helps us to see’, say the Heaths. But luckily they also give us a four-step framework to help us make better decisions: WRAP.
Widen Your Options
Yes or no, this or that, big or small. Narrow choices make bad decisions, so the first step is to explore a wider space of options. And the book shows you how.
Reality-test Your Assumptions
Stop trying to show you’re right and start trying to prove you’re wrong. Only if you fail, then you can start to be confident in your assumptions.
Attain Distance Before Deciding
Shift your perspective in time, place or emotion. How will this decision look in five years, what do people do somewhere different, what would you tell your friend to do?
Prepare to be Wrong
Overconfidence hides the flaws in your thinking, so look for the things that can go wrong and find ways to alert yourself when events mean you need to shift decision.
What? You want more of a summary than summarising three chunky books in a thousand words. Just go out and read them!
By the way, there are lots of great resources linked to their books, on the Heath Brothers website.
Napoleon Hill has a lot to answer for. As if the 1980s’ and 1990s’ surge in the self-help book market wasn’t enough, you can now hardly move around the internet without the offer of a get rich quick scheme or the opportunity to build an amazing lifestyle with barely four hours of work a week. That isn’t to say, that Hill was the first into the market, but he was, perhaps, the first and most important contributor to our literature on personal success.
Napoleon Hill was born into a fairly impoverished Virginia family, in 1883. He was 10 when his mother died, and quickly became something of a local menace, roaming the locality with a six-shooter, trying to emulate his then hero Jesse James. It was his stepmother who pointed him in a new direction. He was to find new heroes in America’s great industrialists, and to learn that the typewriter is mightier than the handgun.
At 15, he started a journalistic career, writing articles for local papers, which led, in 1908, to his first big interview, with ageing steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Over a couple of days, Carnegie shared his philosophy on how he became successful, while Hill sat rapt. At the end, so the mythology goes, Carnegie challenges Hill: if Hill would dedicate himself, unpaid, to researching a philosophy of success, Carnegie would get him started with letters of introduction. Hill accepted and got a personal introduction to Henry Ford. This led to further introductions that allowed Hill to interview such ‘great men’ as Alexander Graham Bell, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, and Elmer Gates.
In a short biography, we don’t have time to detail the many achievements and setbacks that Hill encountered in his life, including his work as PR advisor to US President Woodrow Wilson. But lasting success appeared to have arrived when, in 1928, Hill was able to publish his eight-volume analysis of everything he had learned on the quest Carnegie had set him. With the proceeds of The Law of Success, Hill bought an impressive new family home. Sadly, another reversal came in 1929, when the Wall Street crash took book sales with it. The Hills were destitute.
There followed a series of ventures and adventures in a colourful life that saw Hill working for another US President, FD Roosevelt (and, it is claimed, penning the famous ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself’ line), launching several magazines (that all folded in a variety of circumstances) and surviving, by pure good fortune, an attempted assassination attempt by prohibition era gangsters.
But let’s cut to the chase. In another attempt to revive his fortunes, Hill re-wrote and shortened his Law of Success ideas into a new book. Hill did this at the prompting of his second wife, who also suggested the (early 2000s -sounding) title ‘The Thirteen Steps to Riches’. His publisher rejected this with a suggestion of his own – which was mercifully abandoned. The book we now know of as Think and Grow Rich, was very nearly titled: ‘Use Your Noodle to Win More Boodle’.
More good fortune and ill were to follow, as were more magazines and more books. Perhaps the most significant of these reads a little like a summing up. Teaming up with businessman W Clement Stone from the early 1950s, the two men taught his philosophy of personal achievement. In 1960, they co-wrote Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. More books were to follow – including some finished and published posthumously.
In 1970, Napoleon Hill died. He had arguably achieved even more than his mentor. Whilst Hill was never remotely as rich as Carnegie, it is Hill’s book that is constantly re-issued and labelled as a classic.
The Cores to Hill’s Philosophy of Wealth and Success
At different times, Hill appears to have had a different ‘secret’ in mind. There are a thousand self-help volumes that repeat much of what Hill has said, but often, he did say it first. He has also spawned an industry of internet memes – lush pictures with Napoleon Hill quotes attached. Among my favourites are:
Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.
Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success
Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.
Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.
and, of course, the most famous may well be
What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve
But there is more to Hill than pithy quotes. In his evocation of ‘brain capital’ in Think and Grow Rich, Hill arguably foresaw the growth of Charles Handy’s Triple-i Company.
It is also important to acknowledge that Hill’s philosophy (like many of the men he interviewed) was rooted in an early twentieth century Judeo-Christian tradition of hard work, male dominance, and biblical foundation. Some of his writing may seem ahead of its time, but other aspects are very definitely of the past. His focus on a will to succeed (compare this to Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’) as a transmutation of male sexual energy reads as nothing more than bizarre to a modern reader.
But his concept of a group of intelligent, challenging individuals surrounding you as a means of accessing knowledge and wisdom, which he called a Master Mind, is probably the origin of modern Mastermind groups, which doubtless are responsible for much business success today.
Napoleon Hill’s Secret(s) to Success
In Think and Grow Rich, Hill alludes to his secret of success, without making it explicit. Most people therefore infer it to be some variant of a passionate, almost ungovernable urge to succeed. This is certainly a theme that recurs. It is also worth mentioning that Hill defined wealth far more widely than financial success, but as the quality of your friendships, the harmony of your family life (coming from a man twice divorced), and good working relationships. This last point is vital.
In the Law of Success – actually, 16 lessons – he argues that:
Only by working harmoniously in co-operation with other individuals or groups of individuals and thus creating value and benefit for them will one create sustainable achievement for oneself.’
This is a variant, of course, on the oft-cited and truly multi-cultural Golden rule: that you should treat others as you would wish them to treat you.
But it was in the 1950s and with the publication of Success through a Positive Mental Attitude that Hill described his settled opinion. People who succeed tend to be those who view setbacks as nothing more than a step on the road to success. A positive mental attitude, which finds its modern form in Positive Psychology, Learned Optimism, and a Growth Mindset is Hill’s final secret to success. And it seems a fitting one. Because few people in our Great Thinkers and Doers series have suffered so many setbacks, and mounted as many comebacks as Hill. His final success serves as one data point in the anecdotal confirmation of Hill’s self-help secret.
Liz Wiseman is a former senior executive at the Oracle Corporation, where she ran their Oracle University. There, she became interested in leadership development and has, since leaving and setting up her own business, taken up a research-based approach. Her research into why some leaders seem to get the best from the people around them, while others equally shut down contributions, led to the powerful idea of Multipliers and Diminishers, and two best-selling books.
Very short biography
Liz Wiseman was born and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. She attended Brigham Young University, studying Business Management and getting her bachelors degree in 1986, followed by a master’s degree in Organizational Behaviour, in 1988. From there, she joined Oracle, where she stayed for 17 years, becoming a Vice President with responsibility for leading the Oracle University.
Wiseman left Oracle in 2005, to found her own leadership consulting business. She is currently president of The Wiseman Group (formerly known as Mindshare Learning). She cites CK Prahalad as her career mentor.
Wiseman’s big idea, which she researched with British consultant Greg McKeown, is that some leaders seem to get vastly more from the people around them than others. She calls them Multipliers. She made this observation while at Oracle and then researched just what it is that they do differently from otherwise equally intelligent leaders, who seem to suppress the contributions of others. She calls those Diminishers.
Multipliers are able to access the intelligence of the people around them and somehow grow that intellect, making them feel (and maybe become) smarter still. They ask questions and make challenges in much the same way as Bernard Bass referred to in one of his four dimensions of Transformational Leadership: Intellectual Stimulation. They seem to see more capabilities than other leaders and therefore make bigger asks of people.
By multiplying the intelligence of your people, Multipliers have a disproportionately positive effect on your business. They can harness under-utilised capacity of busy but bored people, by expecting more and giving them the opportunity to deliver it.
Wiseman identifies five characteristics of Multipliers, and six skills that allow those characteristics to blossom.
Multipliers are Talent Magnets
This is almost the definition of a Multiplier. They seek out and attract people with ideas and talent, and draw their genius from them.
Multipliers are Liberators
They create the kinds of environments that free people up to do their best work and contribute their most innovative and critical thinking.
Multipliers are Challengers
They are able to define a challenge or opportunity and set people the responsibility to excel themselves and meet it. This way, they get the very best from their people.
Multipliers are Debate Makers
They can drive sound decision-making by creating rigorous evaluation and thorough debate. They encourage people to apply all their intellect fearlessly by caring more about the quality of discussion, than about personal gain or loss – we all win when we make a good choice together.
Multipliers are Investors
They invest in other people’s development and growth, and allow people to feel ownership for their careers and the results they achieve.
The Six Skills
The six skills that Wiseman teaches are:
Asking questions that spark innovation and intelligence
Creating debate that drives the best decisions
Identifying and utilizing genius in others
Creating space for others to think and contribute
Transferring ownership and accountability for results
The idea behind Rookie Smarts is simple: new people in an organisation bring a freshness and energy with them. They question the absurd and want to change things because , as an outsider, they have no allegiance to the ways of the past.
Long-serving leaders, on the other hand, easily get trapped into a mindset of ‘that’s the way we do things around here’ , and consequently lose their passion for change and drive to innovate.
What Wiseman advocates is that we ignite our curiosity, fire-up our energy, and become Perpetual Rookies. She says that:
‘Learning beats knowing’
and in so doing, she echoes precisely the principle of the Growth Mindset.
Possibly the first business book I read as a new publication was an innovative take on project management. The book had a charismatic style, much like that of its author. Its title is emblematic of the focus of Eddie Obeng’s career.
Eddie Obeng was born in Ghana in 1959, and grew up in Britain, attending a boarding school in Surrey. He earned a BSc in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at University College London in 1980, and stayed on to take a PhD in Biochemical Engineering.
From there, he went to work as a scientist at Shell from 1983-5 and then to March as a consultant. During his time there, he took an MBA at the Cass Business School. This allowed him to move to the Ashridge Business School in 1987, first as an Assistant Director of Studies, and then, from 1990, as an Executive Director.
In 1994, he left to found Pentacle, an independent business school, which he still runs actively. He is also a visiting professor at Henley Business School and was awarded the prestigious Sir Monty Finniston Award by the Association for Project Management, in 2011, for his contributions to the study and practice of project management.
At the core of Obeng’s thinking is change. He has articulated this simply, by comparing the ‘old world’ with the ‘new world’.
We learn faster than our environment changes, so our learning equips us well, to cope. Stores of knowledge and experience are applicable and the learned thrive. We can build stores of best practice and we can afford long cycle times in developing new products and services.
Our environment changes faster than we can learn, so our knowledge and experience are always out of date. Constant learning and adaptation is our only way of maintaining success. We need to find ways to develop and test new ideas rapidly and be prepared to honour ‘smart failure’.
Does this remind you of the Growth Mindset ideas of Carol Dweck? It does me.
Consequently, Obeng’s teaching is based around five disciplines we need if we are to succeed in the New World:
Inventing the Future – Innovation
Delivering the Future – project management
Delivering Today – operational management
Leading Organised Talent – leadership and team management
Ensuring Results – sustaining change
All of this tracks back well to the central idea that attracted me to Obeng’s writing in the mid-1990s: that there are different sorts of change, which require different styles of leadership and different balances of capabilities and styles among team members.
These he describes as:
Going on a Quest
Goals and objectives of the change are clear, but you’ll need to figure out how to achieve them. You will need to think carefully about your resources, lead with confidence and commitment, and sell the benefits effectively. You need to stack your team with problem solvers and sleeves-rolled-up doers.
Walking in a Fog
Neither where you are likely to end up, nor the route you will take are clear. You need to move forward carefully and deliberately, one step at a time. You’ll also need to constantly reassure team members with praise for their contributions. You’ll need plenty of problem solvers and also caring people who can create strong team cohesion in the face of uncertainty.
Making a Movie
You understand the processes of change, but are open to discovering where the changes will take you. Consequently, professionalism and expertise are your your tools to ensure that the outcome will be right for your organisation. You need plenty of experts around you, who can follow processes correctly and innovate when needed.
Painting by Numbers
The clearest form of change is where the end result is evident and the means to get there are familiar. Excellence will come from precision and accuracy so it is vital to avoid the threat of complacency. As well as knowledge and skill, your team needs people who can monitor, review, and evaluate well.
This framework is now familiar to many project managers. We often learn project management as if every project is like Painting by Numbers, but it isn’t. My experience was very much with Going on a Quest projects, for example. The rise in Agile Project Management, from the mid-1990s is very much a response to this dynamic – particularly to Making a Movie and Walking in a Fog type projects.
Obeng’s charismatic style is not to everyone’s taste (see the video below), but his ideas are often stimulating and easy to grasp. At their best, they are also valuable aids to thinking about the world of work in the twenty first century.
Eddie Obeng at TED: Smart failure for a fast-changing world
If business strategy is the search for competitive advantage, then the Journal of Business Strategy would seemed to have endorsed one strategy above all others. In naming Peter Senge as their ‘Strategist of the Century’ they implicitly set his concept of The Learning Organisation on a strategic pedestal. Indeed, they described Senge as someone who ‘had the greatest impact on the way we conduct business today’.
Peter Senge was born in California, in 1947. He attended his local university, Stanford, where he earned a BS in Engineering. He moved to MIT where he studied Social Systems Modelling for his MS, followed by a move to the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1970, where he gained a PhD in management that he completed in 1978. He stayed on, continuing his research into how we learn, within organisations.
the foundation of the Centre for Organizational Learning – now Society for Organizational Learning – a non-profit member organization pursuing development of people and institutions.
What is The Learning Organisation?
The learning organisation is one that encourages continued learning for both groups and individuals, as a source of competitive advantage. People at all levels from shop floor to senior management will be continually developing their skill levels, knowledge and experience. It is like building an institutional ‘growth mindset’ by increasing the creative capacity.
In The Fifth Discipline, Senge describes five core components of personal development. This book is often viewed as highly theoretical, so his follow-up Fifth Discipline Fieldbook set out practical answers to the questions he received about ‘how’ to implement these ideas.
The five means of development, that create a Learning Organization, are:
Individual, continuous, life-long learning. Senge also emphasises the importance of spiritual development. This, he argues, allows us to understand the tension between reality and vision. He suggests this is the source of creativity.
Senge suggests that we carry implicit mental models of our world and our organizations. We need to understand and challenge them. In the Fieldbook, he offers the tool of a ladder of inference, that climbs up from observation of data, to selection of the data, to applying meanings to them, to making assumptions, from which we draw conclusions, from which we adopt beliefs, that drive our choices of actions. This process helps us to analyse our values, beliefs and actions.
When team members create a vision that they share and jointly own, this brings them together, serves as a basis for creativity, and readies them for change.
Senge believes that group development will outpace individual development in driving team performance. He also distinguishes between dialogue (an exploratory process) and discussion (a process for narrowing and selecting from options).
This is the ‘fifth discipline’. It requires us to see an organization as an inter-connected whole, with a complex set of inter-relationships. Processes do not work as simple chains of cause and effect, but as complex interacting feedback loops that reinforce or counteract each other.
Two Videos of Dr Senge Describing his Central Ideas
Introduction to Organizational Learning
Introduction to Systems Thinking