Growth mindset: Rising to the level of your business goals

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. 

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What you need to know:

  • Ours is an imperfect world. If you are waiting for certainty, it’s a long wait.
  • Management success relies on adopting a ‘growth mindset’ and ‘emotional intelligence’.

The paradox is how imperfect is perfect. In business, we are our habits. We are what we do, not what we say we do. Does business resemble a game of chess or rugby? Does success depend on a ‘growth mindset’ and being ‘emotionally intelligent’ – are these new ideas?

Out of the cargo supertankers full of business and management books, one worth reading is Atomic Habits, written by James Clear, and published in 2018. Quite simply: tiny daily steps forward matter.

“If you're having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn't you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don't want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems,” notes the 5-star Amazon book review.

Ours is an imperfect world. If you are waiting for certainty, it’s a long wait. Fueling the uncertainty are the unexpected -- the protracted war in Ukraine, conflict in Gaza, and the tragic desecration in the Sudan, with its long proud history, dating back more than 3,000 years.

Not to mention the ‘stranger than fiction’ race for the US presidency to be decided on November 5, 2024. Melded with this is rapid technological change: AI, machine learning and programmable biology. Even Mary, the hard-working single mother entrepreneur in Murang’a, can be up against super competitors like Amazon, Google and Apple.

Often the risky choice for companies and NGOs seems to be either to make bold leaps or be frozen like an animal crossing the road, paralysed by the lights of the fast-approaching speeding vehicle.

More like chess or rugby?

One cliché is that we are told to ‘embrace failure’. But who wants to fail? Making a bold bet, and having it nose-dive, can be a disaster. Ambiguity rules. The only way forward is to make the corporate equivalent of Atomic Habits small steps forward. A sedate game of cerebral chess is always thought to be an analogy for business. In practice, the muddy field marketplace is more like a bruising game of rugby.

“We have to accept that the way we progress will be more like rugby: a series of forward, backwards, and sideways moves, and accepting that a number of the moves we make will fail—this is where the term imperfection comes from,” says Charles Conn.

In their recently published book The Imperfectionists, authors Rob McLean and Charles Coon make the case that in rapid change looking for certainty is a fool’s quest. Their prescription is to take on different mindsets that include being ‘ever curious’ and having a ‘dragonfly eye’, with its two very large compound eyes with 30,000 lenses, being able to add lenses and widen the aperture to get a broad accurate view.

Things your grandmother knew

In recent years, we have been told that management success relies on adopting a ‘growth mindset’ and ‘emotional intelligence’. Yet, these ideas are not new; they go back almost to the Garden of Eden. What is new is that their astute psychologist authors have packaged the concepts into a readable book, repeating what your grandmother knew.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment” writes Carol Dweck in her 2015 bestseller.

Emotional intelligence popularised by the 2005 book by Daniel Goleman is the ability to recognise what you're feeling, and also understand how your emotions and actions can affect others. He argues that it can be just as important as IQ. Yet, when you look at the game changers like Africa-born outlier, Elon Musk, emotional intelligence is not in their toolbox.

Even closer home, in a successful new entrant, one often finds that the driving force is a bright quirky energetic individual who makes good things happen, but often not the most emotionally intelligent.

In our imperfect world, Mark Twain said it best: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

David is a director at aCatalyst Consulting | [email protected]

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