Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mindset on failure

Any company needs to look at a variety of criteria to hire people who will succeed.  However, I think there is one that stands far beyond the others: mindset around failure.  People come into jobs with varying levels of experience and expertise, and these DO matter starting out, but they don't indicate anything about a person's ability to adapt and grow.  Mindset, on the other hand, determines how a person will react to challenges and changes, an inevitable part of any career.  In my opinion, this means dropping the ego.  If you are constantly worried about looking good in front of others, you become obsessed with outcomes over behaviors and develop an unhealthy view of failure.
  • Let's start with outcomes.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  It is important to look at and measure results objectively and not go with "how things felt".  This is especially important in teaching where a good-feeling lesson may have left kids no smarter than when they walked into the room.  However, if you look at initial data and say "this was awful, I'm hiding this and pretending it never happened", then you miss out on learning from what you just tried.  It is critical that you measure outcomes, but don't obsess over them.
  • Behaviors are the things you do and practices you engage in.  I think back to my baseball days where I spent a lot of time striking out.  If I got too wrapped up in the outcome of each at bat, I wasn't going to improve.  Instead, I had to make sure I came into every at bat keeping my head down on the ball, rotating my hips, and staying confident that I could hit the ball.  If I practiced and critiqued my behaviors, the results should eventually follow.  Thank my dad for this advice.
  • The way you define failure determines how you deal with it.  People who think in an iterative manner view everything they try as an experience that can teach them a lesson, regardless of whether or not the activity met its original goals (success) or not (failure).  These people know that they need to try things in small bursts and frequently stop, reflect, and make adjustments.  Small failures often lead to eventual success.  People who don't share this view often try to carry out a plan without a lot of feedback and refinement.  If the final result works out, it is a great success.  If it doesn't, it is a miserable failure.
Why does this matter for our schools?  It matters both for how we hire people and how we develop our kids.
  • If the people who teach our kids and administrate over our teachers are worried about looking good, they are unlikely to try new things.  In the rare event that they do, they are less likely to admit early failures and adapt, opting to keep with one strategy or revert to their old ways.  Administrators who think this way will also get wrapped up in their egos and be afraid to try new things, and they will be afraid to give their teachers flexibility to try new things.  Ego leads to a fear of failure which leads to a fear of innovation at all levels.
  • If we teach our kids that everything in life is a one-off performance without frequent iteration, we teach kids that they are either "smart" or "dumb".  Either way, neither category is well-prepared for adversity in their futures and is more likely to quit a tough problem sooner.  Read Carol Dweck's book "Mindset" for more on fixed vs. growth mindset in kids.
I'll probably write a lot more on mindset, attitude, and failure (I'm obsessed with them), but that's a start.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your last paragraph; based on my academic performance throughout my formal education, I felt as though I was entitled to the "smart" label. This mindset I think left me with the perception that there weren't a lot of things that I needed to improve upon, which was terribly wrong.