Tuesday 7 October 2014

Development Mindsets and 70:20:10

x-defaultProfessor Carol Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University and the prime force behind mindset theory. Dweck’s research has led her to the conclusion that each individual will place themselves on a continuum according to their implicit belief of where their own ability originates.

In simple terms this means that those who tend towards believing in ‘nature’ or innate ability as the prime factor in determining their success are defined in Dweck’s model as having ‘fixed mindsets’ or fixed theories of intelligence.

At the other end of the continuum are those that believe their success, and the success of others, comes from hard work, learning, and persistence. These people are defined as having ‘growth mindsets’ or incremental theories of intelligence.

This is an interesting theory, but so what?

Well, Dweck’s work goes further than this observation. She has found that even if people aren’t aware of their own mindset they can be identified by their behaviours, especially their responses to failure.

Fixed-mindset people fear failure (it reflects badly on their ‘innate ability’) while growth mindset people tend not to mind failure so much because they believe they can overcome failure by reflecting on what went wrong and then set themselves to unlearn, re-learn and overcome the cause of the failure.

imageAll this is very interesting. I’m sure we have all looked around us at colleagues and family members and seen these different mindset types – or people behaving in these very different ways.

However, neuroscience research has supported Dweck’s model. In the experiments by Moser, Schroder, Heeter, Moran & Lee brain activity of students was examined when receiving feedback and the differences were clear.

All students’ brains were active when being told whether they had selected the right or wrong answer to a question they had previously been asked, but only the brains of students with ‘growth mindsets’ remained active to hear details of the correct answer if they had got it wrong.  The brains of those with ‘fixed mindsets’ simply shut down at this point.

New Knowledge and Crack Cocaine

Gary Marcus is another professor of psychology who has spent years studying human cognitive development. His book ‘Guitar Zero’ addresses a challenge close to my own heart – that of an adult learning a musical instrument. Marcus’ insights into the learning process reinforce Dweck’s model. Throwing himself into learning guitar at 39 years he describes the learning process as ‘addictive’. Marcus cites neuroimaging research by Knutson and Cooper that found:

“new knowledge can bring the same sort of surge of dopamine one might get by ingesting crack cocaine.”

Knutson and Cooper also point out that the motivating force of novelty and the desire to learn new things are basic biological needs. All foraging species must have a drive to explore the unknown. We’re no different from other species, whether we’re working in our offices or other workplaces, or enjoying our time with our families and friends.

If HR and learning & performance professionals are working with something that’s both a basic human driver, and whose impact on achieving it provides a kick like a horse, then maybe this is something we should be actively exploiting in our organisations.

The challenge is to ensure each of our organisations has as many people with growth mindsets as possible. These type of people are more receptive to continuous learning. They are critical for organisational survival and growth in a changing world. Without ‘growth mindset’ people, organisations end up providing products and services to a world that is in the past.

Development Mindsets

I have been focussing on the important role of development mindsets as an starting point for adopting the 70:20:10 model for some time. My development mindsets are identical to Dweck’s ‘growth mindsets’. They view personal, team and organisational development as something that needs to be worked at constantly. Every day. Widespread evidence of development mindsets is essential if organisations are to achieve Peter Senge’s ‘Learning Organization’ status and if the 70:20:10 model is to be successfully used.

The French company Danone has an excellent initiative based on continuous learning and the 70:20:10 model called ‘One Learning a Day’. There is a very good short video of Danone’s approach on YouTube here. I have worked with Danone to help the company build support for One Learning a Day in the form of approaches and tools to underpin this cultural change initiative and support the drive to demonstrate the power of continuous learning and development mindsets.

Initiatives such as Danone’s help open up more people to adopting and building development mindsets. It’s not easy to change attitudes, behaviours and habits, but this change is essential if organisations are to gain full benefit from the 70:20:10 model.

Development: noun \di-ˈve-ləp-mənt, dē-\
the act or process of growing or causing something to grow or become larger or more advanced

Mindset: noun \ˈmīn(d)-ˌset\
a particular way of thinking : an attitude or set of opinions. An inclination or a habit … a way of life

Development Mindsets and the 70:20:10 Model

70:20:10 provides a clear and simple approach to extending the support of learning and development for all workers - from individual contributors to senior leaders - beyond the services traditionally delivered by the HR and Training/L&D departments. Ignore the specific numbers (it’s just so obvious they are simply helpful indicators to remind us how people learn at work, not some rigid formula to be aimed at or adhered to). Focus on putting into place the support and processes that help embedding, extracting and sharing learning as part of the workflow.

Development mindsets are critical for successful use of the 70:20:20 model.

70:20:10 relies on workers taking much more responsibility for their own development, and on team leaders, managers and senior executives supporting that development together with, and aligned to, the activities of HR and learning professionals. It has to be a full team effort.

If nothing else, 70:20:10 is an agent of change – helping strengthen cultural focus on high performance and continuous development and better positioning people to change behaviours to incorporate all the things that go with growth or development mindsets – constant enquiry, and acceptance of failure as part of the process on the road to success.

70:20:10 also focuses beyond structured learning activities to address the entire way adults learn at work – whether that is through challenging experiences and their outcomes, through opportunities to practice, through building robust, resilient and supportive personal networks, or through making space for reflection, gaining insights and ensuring improvements, where necessary, are taken on-board. A 70:20:10 implementation will provide support, tools and processes to ensure learning is deeply embedded in everyday work.

Jane Hart recently published her insights on an experiential online workshop she ran for the sales team at Pfizer in India. Reviewing the success of this event – a ‘10’ type of activity, but designed to drive ‘70’ and ‘20’ behaviours – Jane observed that:

“the organisational culture encouraged, supported and rewarded the team in their endeavours through learning and working from one another.”

This is at the heart of successful a 70:20:10 strategy, or any other change implementation. If organisational culture and values are at odds with the idea of self-directed development, openly sharing learning together, and the need for managers and leaders to play their (important) role in facilitating, encouraging and supporting continuous development then failure is almost inevitable. If values and culture are aligned and if managers and leaders do play their part then the outcome is invariably successful.

Fortunately, we’re moving into an era where collaboration and sharing are recognised as increasingly important – even with one’s competitors. I have written about the rise of ‘co-opetition’ in an earlier article. There is no doubt that organisations are becoming more co-operative and collaborative within and without, and this is usually reflected in more openness and sharing and greater receptiveness to new ways of development and reaching high performance.  There are very few organisations swimming against this tide.  Some may be slower to understand the benefits, but they will do so finally, without doubt.

A key driver of these changes will be the encouragement for more and more of the workforce to adopt development mindsets.

Thanks to Simon and Carol Townley of the Gorilla Learning Company for insights and the fixed/growth neuroimage.



  1. Once again, great article Charles. I can see this absolutely being adopted/referenced by consulting organizations to further strengthen their respective Learning Strategy practice.

  2. So, what sort of organisation culture and values promote self-directed learning. What clues should I be looking for in my organisation to determine how well the culture and values support SDL?

  3. Michelle - As Peter Drucker is alleged to have said "Culture eats strategy for lunch". Organisations with cultures and values that promote self-directed learning are likely, in my experience, to be organisations that value the contributions of their people not just with financial remuneration but in other ways - by displaying the attributes that usually go along with sustainability and growth - aligning with Dan Pink's 'autonomy, mastery, purpose' credo.

    Self-directed learning happens, well, by itself - but it needs to be nurtured and supported. That's when org. culture comes into play and can have a huge effect.

    Here are a few clues I would look for and questions I would ask:

    1. Is the 'develop others' box in the management competencies framework (it's almost always there) backed up with ways of rewarding managers and team leaders who excel in that area. I would ask "are your line managers regularly reviewed and acknowledged in their annual performance appraisal on their focus and ability to encourage their teams to develop through self-directed learning?"; "What do you do when line managers and team leaders do not adequately encourage self-directed learning across their teams - is their annual appraisal/bonus affected? If not, why not?"

    2. "Do your HR/L&D teams spend a lot of their time working to provide tools, environments and encouragement for people to learn from their work?"; "Do your HR Business Partners work with their management teams to ensure that everyone is provided with opportunities for for reflective practice - both informally as part of the workflow and in other structured ways?"

    3. "Does your employee development objectives process encourage individual contributors and managers to identify workplace learning opportunities in an ongoing way throughout the year?"; "Is this process flexible enough to respond to changes that occur outside the 12 month development objective cycle?"

    4. "Are your employees encouraged to openly share their work, their successes and challenges?"; "Are you able to capture these experiences for others others to access at a later time?"

  4. Thanks for responding thoroughly to my question Charles. These are great markers to look out for and work towards. I shall share this with my HR and Capability groups.