Why you don’t want to be #1

by | Nov 10, 2014 | Blog | 0 comments

photo (18)Be careful of what you work toward…or at least how you describe your organization’s achievements.

Being number #1 could be more of a curse than a blessing in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.

When you’re number #1, you run the risk of protecting, rather than developing, your position. To stay successful, you’re inclined to act more cautiously and even avoid experimenting.

As a result, your organization cultivates a “culture of genius” mindset, as characterized by Carol Dweck,  the world-renowned Stanford University psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

The “culture of genius” for organizations is similar to the “fixed mindset” for individuals. These mindsets value “being good” rather than “getting better.”

Talent is viewed as a fixed trait. Those who’ve got it flaunt it, and it’s important to look smart, talented and popular.

By contrast, those with “growth” mindsets believe that talent can be developed. This applies to both individuals and organizations.  With growth mindsets, there’s a lust for learning, include learning from mistakes.

Wanting to learn leads to a focus on continuous improvement, creativity and innovation, and also encourages greater trustworthiness in organizations.

At this fall’s NeuroLeadership Institute Summit, Carol, along with Dr. Heidi Grant of Columbia University, presented fascinating new research that highlighted several key differences between organizations with cultures of genius and growth mindsets.

For instance, in growth mindset organizations, employees showed:

  • 65% more agreement with this statement: “This company genuinely supports risk-taking and will support me even if I fail.”
  • 49% more agreement with this statement “People are encouraged to be innovative in this company—creativity is welcomed.”
  • 47% higher agreement with this statement: “People are trustworthy in this organization.”

By contrast, employees in organizations with a culture of genius reported higher instances of cheating, taking shortcuts, and cutting corners as well as keeping secrets and hiding information.

Be on the lookout for upcoming research about how the performance of growth mindset organizations compares with genius culture organizations. (Most of us at the NeuroLeadership Summit are betting on consistently steadier results from the growth mindset organizations.)

Meanwhile, what can you do to either change your organization’s mindset or develop it?

Carol and Heidi suggested five actions:

  1. Teach managers about the brain, especially its ability to change. Brain research shows that our brains demonstrate amazing neuroplasticity—the ability to make new connections and develop.
  2. Reframe the purpose of the organization. “Being good” is not the end goal; “becoming better” is a better way to position it.
  3. Change how you describe the goals you set. Use power verbs such as “improve, progress, develop, become and grow.” These verbs suggest continuous improvement rather than static achievement.
  4. Change how you evaluate people. Instead of looking at how good people are, especially in comparison to others, ask: “Are they getting better?” This internal comparison is much healthier for individuals as it values their progress over time and doesn’t diminish their status.
  5. Ensure leaders are reinforcing the importance of learning and continuous improvement in their words and actions.

Also, based on my applied neuroscience coursework, here are two other suggestions:

  1. Acknowledge individuals’ efforts along the way, not just recognize results, to encourage them to work harder, be persistent and continue on the path toward mastery.
  2. Embrace challenges as both a learning opportunity and a way to do things better, both operationally and for customers.

Organizations that adopted lean have an advantage in developing a growth mindset in that lean is all about continuous improvement and learning.

These days it’s not a long-term advantage to be the smartest people in the room. It’s more important to be resilient, nimble and evolving through learning and experimenting.

How’s your mindset for growing talent—yours and others?



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