Many thanks to Francis Lake, who suggested The Tipping Point as a topic for this A to Z of OD. I’ve included it here under G for its author, social science research debunker, Malcolm Gladwell. But let’s start with bona fide social science researcher Carol Dweck and her best thinking about mindsets. G is for Growth Mindset.
The Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Dweck has dedicated her lifelong research to mindsets, particularly in students. She noticed some students were resilient, rebounding quickly after setbacks, whereas others appeared to be devastated by even minor hiccoughs. She attributed this to their mindset – i.e. their belief systems – and coined the terms ‘fixed’ mindset and ‘growth’ mindset.
The Fixed Mindset: Many people view their own potential, talent or intellect as innate and fixed; “either you have it or you don’t.” They assume outcomes are fixed.
The Growth Mindset: Dweck’s research suggests that people who view their ability to grow, learn and develop through hard work, practice or progressive improvement tend to succeed more. They believe their ability is just a starting point that can grow. Growth can be nurtured, and outcomes are open-ended.
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.” Carol Dweck might say, “If you believe you can, and then are prepared to put in the effort, then you can succeed.”
To put this in practical terms, people with a growth mindset choose lifelong learning. They make choices rather than decisions, they try things out, they fail, they learn from their mistakes, they do it again, they get it right, they grow, they practise until they make new habits, they succeed, they develop mastery of their chosen subject, they never stop learning.
Recent advances in neuroscience support the claim that practice makes permanent; our neural networks grow, strengthen and speed up our cognition. We become masters of what we repeatedly do and learn from.
Model I / Model II
Dweck’s research was with students. Chris Argyris proposed another mindset model, more directly appropriate for the workplace.
In Model I mindset, people try to seek unilateral control of situations, they try to win, and if they can’t win, they make sure they don’t lose; they try to act rationally and suppress negative feelings. It is a “win, don’t lose” mindset; the pie is fixed.
In Model II mindset, people seek to learn, seek to find win/win solutions with others by seeking valid information and joint commitment to action. It is a collaborative mindset; the pie can be bigger; the pie can grow.
I’m struck by the similarity of these two mindset concepts: (1) the fixed pie: “try to win, but if I can’t, then try to save face, it’s probably something I’m not good at anyway.” (2) the growth pie: “let’s work together to see what’s possible, we can achieve more together than working independently, we can learn”. (2) is an organisational learning model; it is a generative model; it is a model of true collaboration.
Noughts and Crosses
Here’s a gift for you – a group exercise / collaborative mindset icebreaker – that I have been using with groups for several years.
- Pair up all participants
- Invite each pair to play five games of noughts and crosses (that’s tic-tac-toe, if you’re Transatlanticly-inclined)
- Rules: take turns to go first; three points for a win, one point each for a draw
- Goal: maximise your points
- Once everyone has completed five games, ask them to add up their points, and then add the two players’ points together to obtain a score for each pair
- How many points did each pair of players achieve?
- If it was not 15, what happened?
In my experience – I’ve asked hundreds of people to take part in this game – almost all pairs of players fail to get the maximum 15 points. This quick game demonstrates how locked into a “win, don’t lose” mindset we all are; how locked into a fixed mindset we all are.
In the training room, we can then explore the merits, strategies, skills and behaviours and, most crucially IMHO, the mindset needed to become more collaborative at work. Collaboration is one of the typical goals of many organisation development programmes. Collaboration is my speciality.
OD Thought leader: Malcolm Gladwell (1963 – )
“Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread like viruses.” Gladwell looked how epidemics spread an applied the thinking to social epidemics. To exemplify his ideas, he cites significantly reducing crime rates in New York, a huge uplift in sales of Hush Puppies and the number of teen suicides in Micronesia, among several others.
The Tipping Point is that point when critical mass is achieved in a social movement and it then starts to spread significantly more quickly than it did before.
Gladwell suggests there are three things needed to harness The Tipping Point. Get all three right and you can generate a tipping point for your social movement:
- Law of the few (20% of people will do 80% of the work needed to gain momentum – the trick is about recognising who are the connectors, the mavens (information specialists) and the salesmen who will entice others to follow their lead)
- Stickiness factor (how easy and sticky is the new idea?)
- Context (if the environment is right, then more people will take on the idea).
In organisations, this social movement is – of course – the case for change. And so, generating a tipping point has become something of an ambition for many change agents and change leaders. The advice on how to do this usually surrounds making the new world more appealing, enticing early adopters and changing organisational systems and processes to make it harder not to change.
Gladwell went on to write Blink about the adaptive unconscious, and Outliers about the odd factors that come together to create success.
Recommended reading: Malcolm Gladwell (2000), The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference, Boston, Little Brown.
Next time: H is for Human