My daughter’s elementary school has this thing called the Growth Mindset Program. I didn’t really pay much attention to what that meant when I first heard it. But as she progressed through a year or two of school, it came up more and more. So I figured it was probably time to figure out what it means.
I asked my wife, the teacher. She told me it can be explained simply as “the power of yet.” When children struggle with something, instead of thinking “I can’t do it” we help them frame things differently so they say “I can’t do it…yet.” See how that works? Now they know it’s just a process and they’ll get there eventually.
That was enough for me to feel like I understood it. It makes sense for developing young minds to think that way. I felt lucky that my kid was in a school that had such high order thinking.
Then it came up again. My wife and I were helping our daughter navigate some challenges she was facing due to some perfectionist tendencies, and we came across a book called Bubble Gum Brain. It’s a tale of two kids with different brains. Bubble Gum Brain likes to stretch his mind and learn new things without worrying about mistakes, but Brick Brain figures there’s no way to change things so it’s not worth trying.
Riveting fiction. But it actually helped. And in case it’s not obvious, it’s about Growth Mindset. (I also discovered a good book called Giraffes Can’t Dance that has a similar message in a slightly more subtle fashion. It could more accurately be titled Giraffes Can’t Dance…Yet.)
So that was that. Now my daughter was better able to manage her bouts of perfectionism by thinking about bubble gum and giraffes. Parenting achievement unlocked.
Then it came up again. Except this time, it wasn’t the eight year-old. It was Twitter. And it actually came up a lot. My Twitter feed is primarily filled with cloud computing and tech pundits and professionals (with a smattering of comedians and baseball reporters just to confuse and entertain). So I was surprised to see an elementary school education concept come up with some regularity from this crowd.
IMO the most important skill to have in the tech industry is a Growth Mindset. The list of technology you "should know" is constantly changing. The most valuable skill is learning how to learn.
— Caitie McCaffrey (@caitie) February 7, 2020
I’m sure you’re way ahead of me here. My brick brain had taken this long to realize that this wasn’t just for kids. In fact, maybe there was something to the fact that my own kid had been struggling with perfectionism. Have they found that strand in the human genome yet?
Yes, Growth Mindset is a thing. Once I began down the internet rabbit hole, I realized just how much of a thing it is. “The power of yet” isn’t just something my wife made up to explain it to me. There are gobs of research, books, articles, and videos about it. And it’s something that requires real cultivation. If getting everything perfect on the very first try is something frequently lauded, it’s not a great environment for growth.
Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough for the past several years to work in organizations and for managers that heavily value learning and actually do embrace a Growth Mindset. I just never put a name to it. (I’ve been in the opposite situation too so it’s nice to have some perspective on it.)
So despite me burying my head in the sand about it for so long, I’ve been attempting to tap into my bubble gum brain as much as possible. I’m working on being less affected by a fear of failure and trying hard to celebrate my mistakes as part of the learning process. I guess what they say is true. You can learn from your kids.
Why am I writing about this now? Because at the start of this new year I’ve taken on a new role at VMware, leading a small team and focusing on developer engagement to help enterprise developers learn about and get started using VMware Tanzu. I’ve been a developer before, but this particular experience is a new one for me. And some days I feel like I don’t know how to do it…