A mindset for growth

April 2019

I recently moderated a session at the Think!Sponsorship conference on diversity. My panel of four interesting women, whom I hadn’t met before, delivered a joint presentation and answered questions from the floor. 

We had done a technical rehearsal prior to the audience arriving (the film didn’t play, of course) and I’d asked them some practice questions. The session went well, and we all said goodbye, a little high on post-performance adrenaline. 

Next morning, I got an email from one of them “I’d really appreciate your feedback on how I presented and any pointers you might have for improvement … I wouldn’t normally put myself forward for this, however it’s something that I need to learn to do!”

Asking for feedback was probably harder than actually doing the talk. 

I was reminded of a team member I managed who was always aggressive during his reviews, to the extent that no one wanted to tell him where he could improve. I explained to him that he was throwing away the equivalent of a diploma course in learning from all his colleagues’ mistakes and industry experience – the ‘feedback is a gift’ idea. 

In his book Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed compares the airline industry’s attitude of embracing learning from mistakes and near misses with cover-ups in healthcare and the criminal justice system. He explores why we don’t like to review our mistakes, or even consider we could possibly make any, and the negative impact that has as cycles of error are repeated and improvement stalls. 

Most telling for me was some research around ‘mindset’. When children of equal ability were tested, those who thought that intelligence was fixed (you are either good at something or you’re not) performed worse than those who thought intelligence and skills could be grown or developed. These were children of equal ability – the only difference was what they thought about failing and learning.

It always surprises me when you ask someone a direct question what they will tell you, and how valuable that learning can be.

When was the last time you asked your colleagues, or clients for honest, developmental (i.e. critical!) feedback?

Is it time you did?