Ah, yes, Mindset.

So, last time, I blathered on about The History of the World in Three Minutes. The most important point, and I hope this was clear, was the the Industrial Revolution gave us (us = The West) a two-tiered education system. The Obedient Unskilled and the Proud Professional, to paraphrase.

Tender reader, strap yourself in, we have another point to make.  There is an excellent book, Mindset Carol Dweck (Random House, 2006). Carol Dweck is a psychologist who’s been researching her subject for many years. Read the book, but in summary, she proposes that there are essentially two mindsets.

The first, the “fixed” mindset, is best exemplified by say, a great tennis player. This guys knows he’s the best. He cannot lose. If a game doesn’t go his way, it’s not due to a failing of his, oh no. His shoelace broke, there was a reflection glinting in his eye, the line judge was asleep.  But him lose? No, impossible.

You here it in corporate speak “We only employ superstars!” You hear it in parents thinking they are encouraging their kids “We only want you to be the best you can be.”

The problem is that if someone is the best, and identifies that way, then any failing at all is a failure of Self. Which makes is impossible to either admit to failure, or even take on anything where failure is a glaring option. Or even a very subtle option.

It’s not even always about being the best.  It might be simply about being what you are.  Your test scores show that’ you’re a C in math.  So you know that you’re only so-so at math. “I couldn’t never do that job, it needs too much math, and I’m meh at math.”

What’s the second mindset? You probably guessed it, it’s the “learning” or “growth” mindset. This guy might not have won today, but he learned something and maybe he’ll win in the future. This girl got a C in math, but she’d like to get a B next time so she’s going to study.

[Stop Press! At this point, I interrupted my writing to attend the East Bay Agilistry Meetup where Dr Ahmed Sidky gave a talk titled ”The Agile Mindset: The Key To Being Agile Not Just Doing Agile”. He had some fabulous slides on Carol Dweck’s work, and there was much nodding and agreement going on!]

In light of Ahmed’s talk, and I’m hoping that he’ll be sharing the deck, we can cut to the chase.

The fixed mindset fears failure, as it’s a failure of Self. The growth mindset embraces failure as a learning opportunity. The fixed mindset reaches for certainty and tries to resist or control change. The growth mindset acknowledges uncertainty and embraces change as opportunity. The fixed mindset hates looking bad or stupid, the growth mindset just doesn’t care about that.

If you’re reaching ahead to seeing that the “old school” way of doing things equates to the fixed mindset and agility equates to the growth mindset, yep, we’re getting there, and we’ll bang that gong with a vengeance shortly.

But first I want to cover the why of the mindsets. Why do people think that way?  We’re not born with a built-in mindset.

John Taylor Gatto has written at length on the problems of Western schooling. He documents the history of the decisions and actions taken to implement methods of schooling specifically designed to support the Industrial Revolution. To summarize, two streams were required. One would produce unskilled obedient laborers and soldiers to do the hard physical work and be cannon-fodder, the other would produce highly self-invested professionals who would manage the others and provide the technical problem solving, all to benefit the owners of the industrial means of production.

The thing is, it worked incredibly well. The Industrial Revolution was the driving force behind the explosive growth of the 19th and 20th centuries. Never mind the politics, never mind the Dickensian and Orwellian aspects, all the benefits of modern life that drive our society today came from the industrial revolution.

But think of that second tier, the professionals.  Their work is knowledge work. As Ahmed so nicely put it, we keep working while the cost of the change we’re undertaking is assessed as being less than the value that change provides. And knowledge workers are all about driving down the cost of change. And as they focus on this, what comes right behind it? Technology!

Technology is all about finding more and more ways of enabling cheap change. So what do we get behind the Industrial Revolution, but a Technological Revolution!  Taa-daa!

But the thing is that the way the professionals had been taught to think was industrial.  It was about production lines, it was about nailing certainty, and ensuring that the means of production was predictable and completely controlled. The workers could be commanded “Do this, and do it thus, and keep doing it” and all would work.

Whoops. All this quest for certainty produced the technological revolution that brought with it the means for innovation that brought with it… uncertainty! Change! Yikes!

And the poor old professionals, still being churned out by the University System, a great machine that grinds exceedingly slow and exceedingly small (and at HUGE expense), the poor old professionals are still being taught to invest highly in their Qualification (ooh!) and still being taught to prepare for a career (a what?) and still being taught to believe in The Plan.

I’m going to pause, and find a dark corner, and give myself a quick rub-down with a damp copy of Oz Magazine from 1968, and wait until I calm down before I continue.

Up next… well, team, what do you think we’ll be talking about next…?

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