I once saw Seth Godin give a talk where he asked everybody in the audience to raise their hands as high as they could.
They did. “Now raise them higher,” said Seth, smiling. The audience complied with gusto, stretching their hands up even further, reaching for the ceiling like a classroom of kids desperate to be called on by their teacher. Turns out they had more to give after all—they just needed someone to help them see it.
Luckily, our ability to see greater possibility for ourselves is something we can develop (and it can be really good for business). In her seminal book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. showed that people can learn to fulfill their potential by adopting what she calls a growth mindset.
Unlike people with a fixed mindset (“I’m good with numbers, but I’ll never write well”), people with a growth mindset see themselves as learners in a perpetual process of self-improvement—and routinely enjoy greater achievements than their counterparts as a result. In addition, organizations with this growth mindset report higher levels of innovation and a more engaged and productive workforce. It’s no wonder that companies like Google are searching for “learning animals” who frequently lack college degrees but are demonstrably voracious learners.
Can anyone see themselves as a learner? Yes, says Dweck: We’re born for it.
How to get your people to see themselves as learners
Not everyone is naturally hungry to learn, or views themselves as someone who can grow. This fixed mindset can be extremely frustrating, especially when we see so much potential in our colleagues. So how do you get your people to look in the mirror and see a learner looking back? Here are four suggestions.
1. Raise awareness.
People can’t see themselves as learners until they know it’s an option. Educate your employees about how the human brain works. Teach them, for example, that their attitudes can affect their motivation or that smart and focused practice can create and strengthen neural pathways that didn’t even exist before. Then, give them tactics such as, “Replace the word failing with learning,” or “Focus on effort, not outcome,” that enable them to apply their newfound awareness to their work.
2. Make learning more organic.
In the workplace, learning is often treated as a special event that’s separate from everyday work. Change that perception by making learning more organic. This is where something like microlearning is really effective. It’s a form of learning that fits into an employee’s schedule and looks a lot like the apps and short-form media they consume in and outside of work.
You can also make learning feel more organic by using stories, analogies, and interesting facts people find naturally compelling. Finally, make it mobile-accessible so people know they have company-vetted resources at their fingertips whenever, wherever—so their professional development can become more seamlessly interwoven with their personal lives.
Learning needs to be more organic, says the most popular TED speaker of all time.
3. Level the playing field.
Growing up, most of us are led to believe that older people are teachers and younger people are learners. Unfortunately, this thinking often carries over into organizations. Senior members are seen as experts, junior members as novices. Break that paradigm.
Why not have direct reports train their managers on a topic? Or task new hires to teach something to the company’s leadership team as part of onboarding? Doing so will help you break down social norms, thereby putting everyone into a growth mindset, helping to make your organization build a culture that is more inclusive and collaborative.
4. Give people a voice.
A simple way to get someone to see themselves as a learner is to treat them like one. One way to do this is to collect feedback about what they want to learn. Conduct surveys. Ask people in the hallway. Use their feedback to inform your training offerings. The small gesture of asking people what they want to learn and then listening to them validates them as learners. The greatest minds in L&D have always recognized this power—and put it to good use.
Fostering learning as a way of being.
Dweck points out that growth mindset isn’t just for individuals. Whole companies tend to have a one or the other mindset, too. Invest time in helping your workforce see themselves as someone for whom learning is an integral part of their identity as an employee—and a person. In other words, let’s seek not only to make learning something people do. Let’s seek to make it something they are.
Do you have tips for getting people to see themselves as learners?
Let us know in the comments!