Updated: Feb 25, 2020
“Yeti loves to learn new things,
Sometimes he makes mistakes;
As long as he can learn from them,
He’ll give it all it takes.”
As children, we were constantly learning. We learned social interaction, to talk, to write, to read, to ride a bike… the list goes on. Of course, we didn’t master those skills at our first attempt. And yet, as adults, there is an expectation in a fast-paced, results-driven world that we should immediately be able to do something new and be brilliant at it.
An approach that is gaining in popularity in schools is to encourage children to adopt a Growth Mindset. Growth Mindset is a belief that the brain can be trained like a muscle. Through learning, feedback, resilience and focused effort, we can increase our knowledge and develop our abilities.
The opposite, a fixed mindset, is the belief that we are born with our talents and abilities and these can't be improved. This concept was developed by Dr Carol Dweck in her book ‘Mindset’ and has been used to demonstrate that natural talent alone will not be enough to deliver sustained success.
So what does a Growth Mindset mean in practice? Firstly, it is something that can absolutely be developed in adults as well as children. By creating a culture where learning is encouraged and celebrated, you can grow both your people and your organisation.
Of course, in order to nurture a learning culture, you must give people the space to learn; crucially, this means you must learn to accept failure. But it is how you perceive failure that is the key. If you adopt a fixed mindset and perceive failure to mean someone is no good at something and never will be, they will not learn to become better. However, if you adopt a growth mindset, failure becomes a step on the route to success, and the shift is to make your failings as safe as possible and your learning from them as quick as possible. To borrow the often-quoted words of Samuel Beckett:
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
As long as we understand ‘fail better’ to mean faster and getting closer to our intended goal, we can alter the perception of failure to enable us to learn, innovate and grow.
The great basketball player, Michael Jordan, is quoted as saying:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, being voted as Most Valuable Player in all six finals. He is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.
Similarly, JK Rowling’s first ‘Harry Potter’ book was rejected by more than 10 publishers before being accepted; the franchise is now estimated to be worth $25 billion.
So what does this have to do with a yeti? A popular Growth Mindset exercise with children is to get them to add ‘…yet’ to the end of sentences in order to change the way they perceive them. For example:
I don’t understand… yet.
I cannot do this… yet.
I’m not very good at this… yet.
‘The Power of Yet’ is a fantastic tool that encourages children to understand that skills can be learned and developed, and to believe they can do it – even if they cannot do it YET.
I’m in the process of developing a children’s story based on ‘The Power of Yet’, but cunningly titled ‘The Power of YETi’. Can you see the link yet? By characterising the concept and making it fun and engaging, I believe it will appeal to children, be memorable and encourage them to be resilient and keep learning. When learning new skills, such as riding her bike, my 4-year old daughter gets back up from a fall and (after a small release of frustration) says, “We must keep trying. Like Yeti.”
I also like her use of the word ‘we’ – she’s riding the bike but we are holding her, helping her, picking her up and encouraging her. And we, as ‘grown-ups’, can apply this approach with ourselves and our colleagues. Life is a team game – even Roger Federer has a coach and a support team!
So how can your team summon ‘The Power of YETi’ to be successful? I believe some key steps are as follows:
Be inspired by others
There are more than 7 billion people on Earth today and they were billions more before us – learn from them! Be inspired by your team-mates, by competitors and by the qualities of your ‘heroes’. Success isn’t achieved alone!
Tackle new challenges with a positive mindset – the more you practise, the more you will learn and the better you will become. The more positive and open your mindset, the better the chance of success. How can we expect a different outcome or to develop ourselves and our teams if we always do the same things?
Learn from mistakes
We can become better by learning (e.g. through reflection) from mistakes to understand what went wrong and how we can improve next time. The more we practise this approach, the better we can understand how to reduce our mistakes and speed up the learning we take from them.
If we can create as safe an environment as possible in which to learn, that also reduces the impact of our mistakes. Learn on small-scale projects or by testing with prototypes so you can be your best when you need to deliver to your top client. But if your learning must be done in the heat of battle, support each other and learn together.
Feedback is a key element of deliberate practice. Try something with the intention of achieving your goal then seek feedback to understand how you did and what can be improved. Then put that feedback into practise.
Keep trying until you succeed! It’s important to understand that we are not encouraging you to keep trying the same thing over and over again when it is clearly not working. Keep going with the process. Learn from mistakes, get feedback, adjust and try again. And keep going until you reach your intended goal, even if the route to success and the product that gets you there is somewhat different to how you imagined at the beginning.
We will often exhibit elements of both fixed and growth mindsets, but the more we can tune in to and apply our growth mindset, the more we will improve and be in control of our own learning. If we believe we can improve and are committed to achieving our goal, we will be much more resilient with the failures along the way.
By following these steps and creating a Growth Mindset culture, you will try new things, learn new things and grow yourself, your team and your business.
And remember, this approach is applicable even when you are good at something. Learn to be better, become your best, then become the best. Then keep learning in order to stay there!
I started this article with a verse about Yeti. Since originally writing the story, I have altered this verse to:
“Yeti loves to learn new things,
Mistakes don’t make him fret.
He believes that he can find a way
If he cannot do it yet.”
I believe this is more powerful, but if you take the two rhymes together, it shows a learning journey from simply applying effort to the learning process, to no longer worrying about mistakes and actively believing he can find a way to be successful. I see this as a significant shift that embraces the Growth Mindset, by showing that the effort will be focused towards the intended goal, combined with belief and resilience.
Talent alone won’t bring you success but neither will effort alone. Adopting a Growth Mindset requires several different elements, all focused towards improvement and achieving your goal. Collectively summon ‘The Power of YETi’ and encourage your team to learn their way to becoming their best, and ultimately, the best.
Growth Mindset is one of five ‘Performance Teaming Mindsets’ that are explored in our Performance Teaming programme. Click here to find out more.