Category Archives: Competence

How to Succeed: Baby Steps and Baby Mind

baby steps

There was a popular movie in the 90’s called “What about Bob?” where the egotistical psychotherapist, played by Richard Dreyfuss, wrote a book entitled “Baby Steps”.

The title represents a brilliantly simple idea, that in order to succeed we need to take baby steps.

And importantly, we need to take those steps with ‘baby mind’.  When babies are learning to walk they aren’t thinking about themselves, only the goal.

Want this. Oops fell over.
Want this. Oops fell over.
Want this. Ahh, did it.

We continue this success pattern until we succeed in walking. And then we learn to run. Or ride a bike. Or write a book.

Somewhere along the line we learn to think about what we are doing.   And our style of thinking has a big impact on what we decide to do.

Instead of the observation “oops fell over”, we learn to make judgments about the action.

Is it good, or not good enough?

And we may pick up messages that mistakes are bad.  That only 100% is acceptable.  That smart people don’t make mistakes.

So our success pattern changes:

I want this. I think I can. Oops mistake.
I want this. I think I can. Oops another mistake.
I want this.  I don’t know if I can do it (perfectly).  Oops another mistake you dummy.
I want this. I don’t think I can. I’m not good enough.  Argghh, I give up.

For example, I embarked on a goal to write a book in the space of a year.

My first four months went like this:
I want this.  I think I can.  Oops my writing is nothing special.
I want this.  I’m not sure if I can.  Oops, I don’t think I have anything original to say.
I want this.  I don’t think  I can.  I’m not good enough…

But luckily, I am with a group of amazing women attempting the same goal. Some are making good progress, writing regularly. Others are struggling with similar thoughts to me.

So this month I delved back into the literature on what makes the difference in learning and achievement, what is the secret to success.

And I’m reminded that a lot of it is about baby steps.  Breaking the goal down into baby steps and taking action again and again. Writing as often as possible. Preferably every day. Even if it doesn’t seem good enough…yet.

I don’t necessarily like this message, but I now know that that if I write often enough I can finish my book this year.

I don’t yet know how well it will turn out, or whether it will sell.

I’m not expecting it to be on the bestseller list, but I am aiming to benefit the people who read it.

If I do so, I will be satisfied. It will be a year well spent.





Google’s Success formula – Lovable Stars vs Jerks?

Thanks to Ralph Kerle for the interesting comparison of creativity at Google and Microsoft. It makes me wonder if there’s something Google isn’t telling us about its hiring policy.  One of my favourite articles for discussions with technical and professional staff is the Harvard Business Review piece on Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools and Social networks.  According to the authors Casciaro and Lobo, there are two dimensions by which we judge our workmates – intelligence and likeability.

I wonder if Google has hit the recruitment jackpot in weeding out the jerks and hiring the lovable stars – people who are both smart and likeable.  As you might guess from your own experience – there seem to be fewer stars than jerks in most workplaces.  Perhaps that’s because all the stars are working at Google.

Why grow a Growth mindset?

I read education researcher Carol Dweck’s book on Mindset over the break and the message is intriguing –  our mindsets are self-fulfilling prophecies. If I have a “growth mindset”, I believe that I have the capacity to learn and grow and develop, so I will look for every opportunity to do so.  If, on the other hand I have a “fixed mindset”, I believe that I have a fixed amount of intelligence, social skills, street smarts, influence.   “I’ve either got it or I haven’t”, so I will give up on new skills if I don’t learn them quickly and easily.

This solves a riddle I have noticed in my workshops, where those who are good at something, often want to learn more, while those who aren’t skilled often spend much of their time telling me how they can’t change and how what I am explaining won’t work for them, or it didn’t work the first time they tried it.  This has been a tragedy because what I (Sharon) am very good at is breaking down managerial and social skills into their components so that they can be learned and applied and equally Paul is great at explaining how people can organise their electronic workspaces with practical examples that can be applied immediately.

Now it makes sense, if clients have a fixed mindset and have decided they are not good at the skillset, then the conversation in their head will constantly revert back to “what’s the point trying to learn something that I’m not good at because if I was good at it I would be able to do it already?”  In fact this little phrase “what’s the point?” is my hint that I am dealing with someone who has a fixed mindset.

Dweck’s book is aimed mostly at teachers and parents and it spreads the good news that we can grow fixed mindsets into growth mindsets.  A number of researchers, including Australian Robert Wood and Americans  Peter Heslin and colleagues have taken her theories and applied them to management and particularly to performance management and appraisals.

Next week we will discuss how you can grow a mindset in yourself and others.  In the meantime, make a list of at least 10 things you have learned to do well and put an asterisk beside any of the items where you remember a time when you had no skill in that area and it was frustrating (compared to other things on the list you learned easily and quickly).