Which would you rather have on your team: a high achiever who believes that people either have talent or they don’t, or a person who has a passion for learning and is willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from his/her mistakes? According to a July 7, 2008 article by Janet Rae-Dupree in NY Times, if you want to foster teamwork and creativity, you should choose the latter. The article describes the implications of the research of Stanford University Psychology Professor Carol Dweck.

In an interview of Carol Dweck by Coert Visser, Dweck said:

People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.

A key question prompted by Dweck’s work is, what can be done at the organizational level to create a growth mind-set culture in businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies? Amy Edmondson offers part of the answer in her HBR article that I mentioned in my post on June 25th titled “Psychological Safety”.  Edmondson wrote that successful organizations have a mind-set that she calls “execution-as-learning” ; they create an environment of psychological safety that allows people to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and move on. In that kind of culture, managers do not penalize people for trying out new ideas and occasionally failing. A mistake is considered an opportunity for learning, and, in Dweck’s terms, getting smarter.

These observations about individual and organizational mind-set made me think of the recruiting practices of Cirque du Soleil, one of the most creative and talented group of performers ever assembled. In an article in Fast Company, the Russian coach who runs Cirque du Soleil’s six-week, new hire “boot camp,” said that he prefers training the “also-ran” to training a medalist:

Somebody who almost made the team probably has the same repertoire of tricks, but is still hungry," he says. "The expectation of recognition is much less, so the prima donna syndrome is much lower.

I suspect that these also-rans have a growth mind-set, ready to learn, open to feedback, while the gold medal prima donnas are trying to prove that they are worthy of the recognition and are continually trying to avoid failure. That fixed mind-set does not fit in the highly innovative environment of Cirque du Soleil culture.