Cultivating the Growth Mindset
In the middle of a discussion, I once blurted out, “I love software testing!”
As you’d expect, everybody looked at me funny. Luckily, it was just two people, recent graduates of a liberal arts college with a seminary attached.
I said, “You know Greek, right?” They said yes, so I explained that while I did not agape testing (sacrificial love), and I certainly did not eros testing (erotic love), I have a philia for testing (a deep, affectionate love).
About an hour went by, and the name of my company came up. I had once considered naming my company for another Greek word: Arete Consulting. Arete means goodness, virtue, or, more loosely, a spirit of excellence about all that we do. At that point the two could take it no more and admitted that they did not, in fact, know Greek.
Wait, what? Why would anyone lie about something like that?
It reminded me of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck splits thinking into two general categories. In the fixed mindset, we believe our abilities are fixed—that we are either good enough or not good enough. Either way, instead of struggling to improve, we spend our time defending ourselves, making up excuses when we fail and being proud when we succeed. Neither of those involves the hard work of learning and practicing new things. That comes with the growth mindset, where what we don’t know is an opportunity to learn more and get better.
To the fixed mindset, new ideas are sort of like Greek. They are either not important and easily rejected, or they are scary and different. When the world is moving in the direction of the new ideas (Scrum, unit testing, test-driven development, and continuous integration), there is a third tactic: to recast the new technology in your own understanding.
Take unit testing and test-driven development. Say your organization has software in six or seven code repositories or products modified by thirty people. Of those, there are four or five people who occasionally write unit tests, and a dozen more had the concept in college or used it at a previous job. The legacy code was not developed with automated checking in mind. You can say that you “get” unit testing and “use it when it makes sense,” right?
That might be the fixed mindset in action. It sends us in the wrong direction and creates environments of low trust. It forces us to focus on our roles, and, if we want to learn, it sends us to learn in places that are already our strengths, instead of our weakness.
The fixed mindset makes us want to only test our product, not that other one for the Mac, because we don’t know the Mac OS—even though by learning that OS we’d be more valuable to the company. It distorts our thinking.
If you don’t want to take the time to read Mindset, Dweck also has a forty-minute video on YouTube. Watch it and reflect on whether you or your organization needs a mindset shift.