Forks in the Road, and Other Business Growth Hazards

While knowledge, skill, education, and intelligence are key elements to a company’s success during good times, decisiveness during challenging times may just keep you afloat. And sometimes it means you will make mistakes when facing a fork in the road.

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and has identified two basic types of mindsets in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  She refers to them as either fixed or growth mindsets.  People with a fixed mindset (those who believe their intelligence is fixed) prefer to take on projects that will make them look good.  They are generally obsessed with their image and are afraid of looking bad.  This prevents them from doing things that can stretch them and help them increase their competency — even when they might badly need those new skills.

Fixed mindsets come in all shapes and sizes.  Five years ago, I mentored Joe, a Regional Manager for a Fortune 1000 mortgage company.  Joe was a master of his profession. Within 10 years of working in the industry, he owned a $2.5M home in San Diego and generated consistent loan volumes.   But after 18 years, Joe burned out on the real estate industry. He had a newborn passion for buying and restoring old homes and selling them at a handsome profit.  That’s when his real mindset emerged.

Even though Joe had plenty of financial reserves, education, and family support, he was attached to his fixed mindset.  The thought of relinquishing his $15,000 annual country club membership, $95,000 BMW, and $2.4M home to get what he really wanted out of life was too scary.  He would not take the leap of faith because it could leave a scar on his public image. For nearly six years, Joe would send me a note or an email lamenting his inability to pursue his passion.

People with a growth mindset truly believe that learning requires a lifelong commitment.  They are highly eager to expand their horizons, even if it means that they may look foolish or make mistakes.

Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, models this behavior consistently.  He has even coined a term for this mindset —he calls it “The Learning Moment” (www.thelearningmoment.net).  During our interview, I learned that Garry has turned the company from a single best selling product model to a profitable collection of nine brands. Garry embraces this concept as one that permeates their corporate culture.  Whenever one of his team members makes a mistake, he encourages them to approach him and say, “I just had a ‘learning moment.’  This is what happened, and here is what I am doing to prevent that from happening again.”

By encouraging candor and experimentation, Ridge sustains a learning culture that is willing to take risks and model that growth mindset.  Not surprisingly, WD-40 celebrated a record year in 2007 with $308M in sales and a 19% return on equity.

For a more comprehensive review of WD-40’s  learning culture, check out Garry’s newest book with co-author Ken Blanchard, “Helping People Win at Work.

Every one of us has been confronted with some challenging choice points this past year.  We may be forced to let go of the familiar and the comfortable.  When that happens, choose your path and embrace the learning moment.

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