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Volume 7  Number 2   |   February 2017

A Growth Mindset May Not Be What You Think It Is

Our mission is to spark new thinking and ideas for creating a thriving business and rewarding life.

We often believe that praise will help people solidify improvements and continue to grow, and critique will often correct poor performance and help people to do better. While these dynamics often work, they often don’t or, at least, have no bearing on the actual change in behavior.

What I’m referring to is a phenomenon called regression to the mean. I imagine everyone who’s ever done doctoral research and a dissertation has grappled with this. Simply, it signifies that performance will usually adjust to the mean without any feedback at all.

Example: A ballplayer who has an exceptionally good game and is complimented by the coach and the media follows that performance with a rather average game—good, but not as good as the prior effort. That’s because the player has returned to the performance mean. Similarly, a poor sales person may improve results having been “trained” but it’s simply a regression from below average performance back to average performance. (And this is why, in my opinion, over 80 percent of the $100 billion spent annually on training in business and industry is wasted.)


This doesn’t mean the mean prevails and makes all behavior mediocre. The mean is technically the equal distance between the extremes of best and worst. So what mindset can overcome this and create truly distinguished differences and improvement?

When someone performs exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly, we must find out why. That’s especially true of ourselves as primarily solo entrepreneurs. Most critique, feedback, and training focus on symptoms, or blame, or standards, or what to do, or how to do it.

But not why the performance was higher or lower than the expectation.

The famed Hawthorne Experiments (which were scientifically flawed) nonetheless forced us to consider whether a change (in this case better versus worse lighting) was causal in terms of its content or simply because there was a change and it was known that people were watching and analyzing. Similarly, we need to examine why we perform better or worse, not merely whether we perform better or worse.

If you can’t do that yourself, use your spouse, partner, colleague, or coach. Because in doing that, you’ll create a far more powerful path to growth and success than merely listening to uninformed feedback or signing up for largely irrelevant training.

© Alan Weiss 2017


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