National Learning at Work Week - The power of believing you can improve

Today is the start of Learning at Work Week, with this year's theme being 'curious and creative'. To celebrate the week, each day my byrne•dean colleagues and I are going to write a post about a video or article that has inspired us in our professional/personal development and influenced our work at byrne•dean.

I'm kicking off with Carol Dweck's 'The power of believing that you can improve' TED talk.

Carol Dweck is a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, why people succeed (or don't) and how to foster success.

As Dweck describes it: "My work bridges developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology, and examines the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behavior. My research looks at the origins of these mindsets, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes."

As a life-long perfectionist, Dweck's growth mindset theory was a revelation to me. I've always felt that perfectionism has some significant downsides and Dweck's research explains how and why. A fixed mindset - i.e. a mindset focussed on achievement - leads people to run from errors and require constant validation. By contrast, a growth mindset encourages the belief that abilities can be developed and errors can be processed and corrected. And more, a growth mindset results in more effort, strategies, engagement over time and perseverance when hard problems are encountered.

So how has this influenced my work at byrne•dean? Dweck's research focuses on children's learning, but it's equally applicable to professional development. We of course live in a highly competitive world where businesses have to find ways of doing more with less to deliver value to their shareholders. It's unsurprising that this leads to a focus on short-term results. However, it becomes counter-productive. Dweck's research suggests that if a fixed mindset is the norm in an organisation or team, it will lead to disengagement, stagnation and therefore lower performance.

I'm not suggesting that managers should abandon the annual objective-setting process with their reports - it's important for employees to have a goal to work towards and to know what's expected of them. However, like so much in life, it's about finding a balance. If leaders and managers inject a healthy dose of growth mindset into the way they and others do their work, Dweck's research suggests that they will be rewarded with higher engagement and performance.

It seems so logical and yet it isn't the way most of us are used to working. So I encourage you to give it a try and see how it feels!