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  • Writer's pictureOliver Nowak

The Power of Belief

How much do you truly believe that you are going to be successful?

Have you ever struggled under the weight of a lack of belief?

It might seem like a bizarre thing to say, but the first step to any success is normally to believe it is possible in the first place. Being a big sports fan, I often hear interviews of professional sports stars after a big victory talk about how it exceeds their wildest imagination and they never could have believed this was possible. But in my very limited experience, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I would passionately argue that it was their belief that was ultimately the deciding factor. It was because they believed more in the possibility of victory than their opponent that decided their fate.

“Never talk defeat. Use words like hope, belief, faith, victory” - Norman Vincent Peale

The problem is that it feels like a bit of an abstract concept. How can believing something is possible make it more likely to happen?

This was a question Carol Dweck asked herself over 30 years ago. She came from a background in education and noticed how some students rebounded from failure quickly while others were devastated by even small setbacks. After conducting extensive research involving thousands of students, Dweck came up with the distinction between growth mindset and fixed mindset.

I don’t know about you, but in recent years the phrase ‘growth mindset’ has been coming up more and more. But what actually is it and how big an influence does it have?

In one particular experiment, Dweck took 330 students aged eleven or twelve and asked them a series of questions to determine their mindset focusing specifically on their beliefs about intelligence. Depending on their responses, each student was then categorised as either having a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Following this, each student was given a series of problems to solve. The first eight were quite easy to solve and the next four were much more difficult. All the while, Dweck observed to see if any patterns emerged.

As soon as the students categorised as having ‘fixed mindsets’ reached the harder puzzles they were quick to give-up, criticising their abilities. Essentially, they believed their intelligence was at a fixed point and that it was below what was required to solve the harder puzzle. Contrastingly, the students categorised as having a growth mindset considered the harder puzzles an opportunity to challenge themselves. The solution was out there and they were capable of finding it, it just required patience. Understandably, the growth mindset students significantly outperformed the fixed mindset students and not just by a small margin, a huge margin.

Like any empirical study, this experiment took external factors into consideration like genetics, intelligence, motivation etc so all of these factors can be considered controlled for. The only difference was their mindsets.

So if it makes such a big difference to performance, how can we develop a growth mindset?

The simplest way of developing a growth mindset is starting out with one. By this I mean developing one as a child. So how do we go about this?

A child spends a very large proportion of their childhood in school so this is going to be a very influential space in terms of developing their mindset. Here the role of the teacher can’t be understated. In fact, research shows that those children that had teachers who reinforced messages like intelligence is malleable and praised children on effort and hard work rather than achievement, were much more likely to develop a growth mindset and perform better as a result.

However, I imagine that most readers of this blog will be well past childhood age so will have developed a certain way of thinking already. So how do we go from having a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?

This is significantly less easy to achieve because it in effect requires the complete rewiring of a person’s brain. So what does Dweck suggest as a starting point?

She suggests that the first, and simplest step, is to start reframing the problems and challenges the world throws at you. We can change our entire outlook from a fixed to a growth nature just by adding the three letter word ‘yet’. Let’s take a really simple example that lots of people will be able to relate to. “I can’t solve this equation because I’m not very good at Maths”, reframed with the addition of yet: “I can’t solve this equation because I’m not good enough at Maths yet”. We’ve lost that sense of doom and opened up the possibility that at some point in the future we will have grown to be able to solve that problem.

But what does all of this have to do with digital transformation?

As always, the link to digital transformation seems a bit tenuous, so bear with me.

Like intelligence, the majority of organisations that I talk to view their digital maturity as a fixed point rather than something they can grow into - “we’re not mature enough to consider a solution like that”. And in the long term, this is going to have a drastic impact on performance.

I say this because there are also a number of customers I speak to who are impassioned to become leaders in their industries and they have recognised that in order to reach that goal they need to become digital leaders first. What is interesting here though is that they are often very similar organisations in size and digital maturity, it is only their mindset which differs.

What I see is very similar to the puzzles Dweck presented the students in her experiment. Initially, digital transformation involves smaller steps which are easy, no-brainers to implement. But as you go further along your transformation journey, true transformation only starts to be realised through major change initiatives that often cause friction internally of a magnitude that can easily derail your entire programme if not managed correctly. Those who cower behind a lack of maturity never get to the challenges that require this major upheaval and therefore never reach true transformation. For the rest, though I’d be lying if I said there aren’t risks associated with taking on the more difficult challenges, the reward at the end is potentially gigantic.

Ultimately, the question is: are you the sort of person and organisation that enjoys the challenge of digital transformation?

Or, at the very least can you say: You aren’t the sort of person or organisation that enjoys the challenge of digital transformation yet?

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