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Adopting a Growth Mindset for the New Year

Dorie Blesoff

My family has an annual tradition of gathering to publicly state and write down our New Year’s resolutions and revisiting them the following year to see how we did. Through all the merriment, teasing, and quiet determination that emerges from those yearly rituals, I’ve learned that making promises in a group setting is very powerful.

I also began to notice that when individuals didn’t accomplish resolutions they had committed to, one of two things would occur. Some folks got embarrassed, disappointed in themselves, and maybe even discouraged (especially when resolving to lose 20 pounds year after year). Others were more upbeat, more motivated to try again, and share what they learned about accomplishing a particular goal.

Which attitude we adopt can predict a lot about what we’ll accomplish in the new year.

As you kick off the new year and reflect on the last, setting goals for yourself and perhaps your team, how can you ensure you’re adopting the right mindset? The key is to focus on growth, no matter what life (and work) throws at you.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

There are two contrasting mindsets that govern our behavior when we don’t achieve what we set out to. The concept of growth and fixed mindsets originated in the context of educating children but resonates with people of all ages. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher on the topic, wrote about her studies in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

  • “A ‘fixed mindset’ assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way. Striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.”
  • “A ‘growth mindset,’ on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

When Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, gave the keynote speech at Relativity Fest in 2015, he referred to utilizing a growth mindset and its impact on unleashing creative ways to help all young people learn. As the Khan Academy website states, “Most people are held back not by their innate ability, but by their mindset. They think intelligence is fixed, but it isn’t. Your brain is like a muscle. The more you use it and struggle, the more it grows.”

Take a Step in the Right Direction: Build a robust internal learning program, based on these principles, to help your team stay ahead of the curve.

Resolve to Stay on the Learning Curve

blog_developing-chart.pngIn her research, Carol noticed that these mindsets were likely formed early in life. Intelligence and the capacity to learn can be developed, and the good news is that we can choose to shift our mindset once we are more self-aware and have the will to change—that’s the part that’s up to each of us. 

And it’s not easy. When we value accomplishing our goals, when we value having a positive impact, feedback or data that point out how we fall short is sometimes hard to accept. Who hasn’t received unexpectedly critical responses from internal or external customers, managers or team members, or even family members? The last thing we usually want to do is digest it instantly and make an immediate change. We have wonderful defensive phrases that pop into our self-talk: “Do they have any idea how hard it is to….” or “I’d like to see them try to do this!”

As described in Carol Dweck’s growth mindset TED Talk, the key to moving into a growth mindset when things seem to be falling short is to frame our situation as not yet. For instance: “I have not learned that YET” or “We have not figured out the best solution YET.”

Try it! It’s a wonderful antidote to any tendencies to view mistakes as unredeemable failures. I’m a recovering perfectionist myself, and I’m finding that this simple restatement in my self-talk is helping me stay open to possibilities and try again with renewed effort.

Take a Step in the Right Direction: Learn four surprising ways continuous learning can give your litigation support career a boost.

Setting Goals in a VUCA World

To thrive in a “VUCA” world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) and face challenges we may not have anticipated requires that all of our brains and energy are activated and channeled, and that we stay curious and committed to working hard and keeping up the momentum on our learning curve.

In a recent interview with Carol discussing her book, she states that we can’t keep up with a rapidly changing world without practicing an openness to learning and changing. The same is true of all of us, and all our organizations, as we figure out the best way to be true to our mission in an ever-changing environment. We haven’t failed—we have not yet achieved our desired outcome, and we want to learn how best to try again, and again.

So, as you’re embarking on your personal and company goals for this year, seek to adopt that growth mindset. Set realistic, measurable goals that will help you move forward in this rapidly evolving world. Be data-minded as much as possible, so you can track progress throughout the year and provide proof of your success next January.

Take a Step in the Right Direction: Begin with tangible, tactical goals that have clear business purposes and easy-to-measure proof points. Here's a list of security-related goals to help you brainstorm.

What are your team’s e-discovery goals—and your professional resolutions—for 2017? Let us know in the comments or @kCura on Twitter.

Dorie Blesoff is chief people officer at Relativity, helping implement internal development initiatives across the company and fostering a culture of engagement. Dorie has also taught organizational development courses at Northwestern University’s Center for Learning & Organizational Change for 14 years.