Blog: Can a growth mindset enable success?

Talent Management

Can a growth mindset enable success?

Does the resolve to improve enable success? If making resolutions is a way to connect to a growth mindset, will the belief that our abilities will grow over time ensure success?
Can a growth mindset enable success?

New beginnings fill us with hope. When the year begins, human beings make resolutions. These could be the usual ones — about losing weight, saving more, reading more ... the list goes on. I too have noticed such a pattern in my own resolutions. But apart from being fairly consistent in making such resolutions, I have not always followed up to see them materialize. Does this resolve to change (someday) enable success? If making resolutions is a way to connect to a growth mindset, will the belief that our abilities will grow over time ensure success? What does the science of talent say? Not much I am afraid.

The Science of Talent

Relying on the science of talent

Organizational science is almost 100 years old. There is a lot of research which shows that almost half of our personality is inherited and fixed. The experiments in “growth mindset” were primarily done on children in the beginning and it was observed that intelligence does change in children and fluctuates the most during adolescence and then stabilizes. So just wishing for it to increase is not going to make it happen. Think of intelligence as the processor in a computer. Having a faster processor makes the programs load faster. Today’s software needs faster processors and much more computing power. That makes computers with slower processors unfit for several complex programs. Human intelligence is that processor and someone who is more intelligent can grasp complex ideas faster than others.

That is why when someone explains multivariate regression, not everyone will understand it equally. The processor speed can help explain the ability to learn new subjects. Two people with similar intelligence will achieve different results. In addition to intelligence, their motivation, values, and preferences will determine how successful they will be. If the task involves working with a wide variety of people, someone with better social skills will be more successful. A great sportsperson is often not as successful as a coach. Bob Nardelli was hired from GE to run Home Depot. He failed at Home Depot because his skills and working style did not work well in the context of his new company.

A rose will not grow in the desert, a cactus will. Self-awareness helps us get comfortable in making those choices.  

Professor Boris Groysberg found that when successful Wall Street analysts went to work for their competitor, they were not successful. Even individual contributors’ success depends on the relations with other colleagues. So knowing which pond to swim in can be a huge factor in success.

How do unsubstantiated fads go mainstream

There are three common ways in which something is sold to you as the next big wave you have to ride – advertorials, sponsored research, and peer-group endorsement.

Popular press has advertorials

It is common for mainstream newspapers to do paid content. Advertorials that are tucked in to normal news tends to be accepted if the publication is credible. The actor wearing a white lab coat selling a cosmetic or procedure is an actor. So be sceptical and look up the research before you buy the advice. Don’t get pressurized and conform. Look for evidence in peer-reviewed research journals, not popular press. Clickbait gets in eyeballs and revenue. But it does not overrule science. Look for the fine print that says (usually) that what you are reading has been paid for to appear. It is an ad made to look like serious content.

Research to shift public opinion

Ask, who sponsored the “research”? Companies fund research to help shift public opinion. Chocolate maker Mars has funded several “health studies” that drew glowing conclusions about cocoa and chocolate — promoting everything from the heart health benefits of chocolates to cocoa’s ability to fight disease. 

Everyone else has done it already

We tend to quickly adopt what our peers are doing. If we read a top company adopting a practice, it speeds up adoption by others. Google states that they do not hire people anymore based on IQ (measured through brain-teasers). Given that more than 80% hires in Google are people from top schools, they have already filtered out candidates for cognitive ability. Decades of quantitative research in the field of personnel psychology has shown that "general cognitive ability" or IQ is the best tools employers have to predict performance in roles that involve complex cognitive tasks. Hiring someone who is not a topper at MIT will still give Google a person with high IQ but allows them to hire for soft skills too. The same approach may not be appropriate for your talent strategy.

Find the right fit

Choosing wisely matters. Just because someone who is not as smart as you is a big honcho at a well-known firm is no evidence that you would succeed there as well. Someone who is a brilliant employee may be a bad entrepreneur. Not every individual contributor will be a great people manager. Success is dependent on finding the right pond to swim in. So choosing a profession where the combination of your strengths and weakness is what it takes to create success is a better idea than simply believing it will.

No trait is an asset in every job or organization. Being a high-risk-taker may be useful for an entrepreneur but can be a disaster for someone managing security. Even creativity has a dark side. Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely showed that a creative personality and a creative mindset promote an individuals’ ability to justify their actions, which, in turn, leads to unethical behavior. A creative person will be a disaster in a role that demands adherence to a process. Having a “growth mindset” will not make the person compliant.

Personality in the right place is talent. Self-awareness is the starting point of any leader’s journey. Finding a role that suits one’s strengths and weaknesses (OK “development opportunity” if I need to be politically correct) is what creates success, and this is the biggest piece of advice. 

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Topics: Talent Management

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