The Swamp of Innovation
It’s hard to remember that our task is to drain the swamp when the alligators of failure keep taking bites out of our hope and persistence.
We all know the story of Edison and his 10,000 tries to find the right construction for the light bulb enclosure and filament. How does someone keep going in the face of 10,000 failures? How many of us do anything 10,000 times, let alone in the face of failure! Perhaps the answer lies in Edison’s famous response to that question:
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Now that is a Growth Mindset, to use Carol Dweck’s definitions of Fixed versus Growth Mindsets. Folks with a Fixed Mindset tend to look at failure as a reason to quit and move on. Folks with a Growth Mindset look at failure as insight and declare that they need to try harder or learn more in order to continue. Fixed and Growth Mindsets are not mutually exclusive in an individual. We all have some things about which we have a Fixed Mindset and some things about which we have a Growth Mindset.
One thing seems clear to me. Those of us who have a Growth Mindset about most things have an abundance of hope as well. We have hope that we can continue with our work and not be stopped by an impatient leader. We have hope, and believe, that somehow we will find an answer.
But for the Growth Mindset leader, hope is never the final strategy. Hope is necessary and NOT sufficient. Instead, persistence, continuous learning from mistakes, and moving on to the next iteration is what’s important.
When a person who has a Fixed Mindset about a particular task runs into failure, that is a signal that no more effort need be expended. Nothing can be learned and there is no hope of success. Perhaps that doesn’t happen until the third or fourth failed attempt. But at some point, we give up. The Fixed Mindset says, “It shouldn’t be that hard. Let’s move on.”
The Peter Principle. Many of us (perhaps the “senior” leaders among us) know of this management concept. We promote people until they finally fail. The thought comes to mind that perhaps what we do is promote people until they reach a position about which they have a Fixed Mindset. They are not willing to continue to put in the effort to learn from failures. They somehow come to the conclusion that “it shouldn’t be this hard.” They quit working at the management tasks to which they were promoted.
The competence we need as leaders is management competence. Many of us assume that because we have technical competence, the management part is secondary and easy. Yet, the further up the organization we move, the more we need people skills and not technical skills. We base the whole promotion thing on the hope that a technically competent person will automatically be competent at management. Why do we think that the management of people is intuitive while the technical skill must be learned?
The Peter Principle holds because we are willing to stop learning. A Growth Mindset insists on learning. It knows that at higher levels of the organization, technical skill is NOT your friend. Getting into the details that are in your past area of expertise is only going to get you labeled as a micro-manager. Growth Mindset demands that you recognize that you should no longer be the smartest person in the room technically.
Instead your new job is to be the best Growth Mindset leader you can be. Your job is to be a champion of hope and persistence and continuous learning. Learning in both the technical aspects of the organization and the leadership/management aspects. Hoping for management competency is not a strategy, but hope is a requirement for leadership!