Check Your Mindset

April 10, 2007
Problems arise because pure talent only works as long as the going is easy.
Automation supplier ABB unveiled its 2006 financial numbers at its user conference in Orlando in March, revealing another year of significant growth in sales and profits. This is after the company was in the doldrums for a few years from 2001 through 2004. I asked Dinesh Paliwal, president of North American operations and corporate executive vice president of automation, what they did to affect this turnaround. His immediate answer: “We changed the corporate culture. We wanted to change the mindset of the people to that of winners.”I started thinking about mindsets when I read a post on Guy Kawasaki’s blog, “How to Change the World (A practical blog for impractical people).” He quotes and expands on an article from “The Stanford Magazine” about Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck and her study of why some people excel and others don’t. Kawasaki is the original Silicon Valley “evangelist,” working on the first Macintosh at Apple, and is now a venture capitalist.Growth or fixed?

Kawasaki writes, “According to the article, people have two kinds of mindsets: growth or fixed. People with the growth mindset view life as a series of challenges and opportunities for improving. People with a fixed mindset believe they are ‘set’ as either good or bad. The issue is that the good ones believe they don’t have to work hard, and the bad ones believe that working hard won’t change anything.” Dweck develops these ideas further in a new book, “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success.”

Dweck’s research was on children—fifth graders. She asked the question, is it good to tell intelligent children (Kawasaki expands the idea to include employees) how smart or talented they are? The research shows that labels, even good ones, can instill a fixed mindset with problems that come along such as performance anxiety or tendency to give up quickly. Well-meaning words can sap motivation and enjoyment of learning and undermine performance.Here are some tips from Dweck:

l Listen to what you say with an ear toward the messages you’re sending about mindset

l Instead of praising intelligence or talent, focus on the processes they used

l When they mess up, give constructive criticism—feedback that helps understand how to fix the problem, rather than labeling or excusing

l Pay attention to goals you set for others; having innate talent is not a goal, but expanding skills and knowledge is.

Kawasaki then broadens the discussion into some thoughts we all need to understand and live by. “Perhaps this explains the inexorable march toward mediocrity of many (temporarily) great companies. Let’s say a startup is hot. It ships something great, and it achieves success. Thus it’s able to attract the best, brightest, and most talented. These people have been told they’re the best since childhood. Indeed, being hired by the hot company is ‘proof’ that they are the A and A+ players. Unfortunately, they develop a fixed mindset that they’re the most talented, and they think that continued success is a right. Problems arise because pure talent only works as long as the going is easy. Furthermore, they don’t take risks because failure would harm their image of being the best, brightest and most talented. When they do fail, they deny it or attribute it to anything but their shortcomings. And this is the beginning of the end.”

So, do you need a mindset check? Are you growing, or coasting? With that attitude, take a look at some of the new columns we’ve started at Automation World on business, finance and eco-nomics. Send me a note about what you’d like to see—or send them a note and suggest topics you’d like to see them cover.