Does Growth Mindset Exist in Big Tech?
When I was a kid — I was never the best basketball player on the team. I was never the best saxophone player in the band. I was never the best student in my class either. It’s not that I wasn’t good — it’s just that there were always better folks around. And it was my decision to surround myself with talented people.
Being at FB, means being surrounded by the best engineers in the industry. Within FB, I try to make sure that I’m part of a strong team. The strategy is the same — One should always try to be surrounded by better people.
Surrounding yourself with better people is a growth strategy. Assuming you are able to understand the behaviors of surrounding stars, as well as understanding your own behaviors and the gaps between them — you can use this to your advantage to learn. This act is a growth-minded act.
I recently read “mindset” by Carol Dweck. In the book she suggests that there are two types of mindsets that exist in the world — the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes their qualities are carved in stone and cannot be changed. They believe that what they are born with is what they’ve got to offer. On the other hand, a person with the growth mindset believes that their basic qualities can be cultivated using effort, strategy and help from others.
The “growth mindset” as she describes it, has many characteristics. One of them is the enjoyment of challenges. It’s more than the ability to handle challenges, but rather looking for them. The process of dealing with a task, whether doing the task successfully or not — is what makes it enjoyable for this kind of person.
The outcome of the task is always important and has consequences, but this outcome doesn’t affect a growth-minded person’s approach — to continue with the challenge.
Risk taking — and handling failures accordingly — is another characteristic of the “growth mindset”. A failure does not determine a person’s abilities. To the contrary — a setback is a chance to learn something new about one’s capabilities. Since growth-minded people believe any quality can be cultivated and adapted — a failure is an opportunity to gain insight towards what they should focus on in order to grow. It doesn’t matter how they are perceived in public, because the process is what matters most, and it will eventually pay off.
If those are the characteristics of a growth mindset, a “fixed mindset” is the exact opposite. Avoiding challenges in order to avoid failures, and focusing on how they are perceived by other people instead of focusing on the process of improvement. Being perfect, always, instead of celebrating the imperfections.
While reading the book, I could not avoid thinking about how these ideas are manifested by engineers in large organizations. Organizations, like people, have a mindset. We could think of many characteristics of the business mindset, but we’ll let Carol do this work. Instead, I’m going to focus on FB — where it helps with creating a growth mindset and where it prevents it.
Let’s start with the things that promote growth mindset -
- In FB, you own your career. It isn’t just a phrase. You make all of the decisions, from which team to be in to what projects you’ll work on. You can choose to work on things that challenge you, if that’s what you’re after.
- The challenges are endless — The company deals with so many different products and aspects of technology in the largest scale that exists. There is always a bigger challenge to pursue.
- The leveling system helps to push engineers’ mindsets towards the growth mindset — you have a framework that helps you create self consciousness about the things you’re good at and the things you need to improve. In times where people find it hard to identify areas for growth, such a system is valuable.
And the things the prevent it -
- In some aspects, the Performance Reviews prevent engineers from developing a true growth mindset. Many engineers tend to maximize their efforts while thinking about the short term success and how they are perceived in the company, and not about the long-term process. This is something that the company tries to deal with (FB just moved to annual reviews instead of semi-annually) but it’s still too early to assess.
- When an engineer is stressed about their performance review — it is harder to take big risks — a failure can result in a low performance review and can end up getting fired. So even if the challenge is there, an engineer needs to be confident enough to take it.
It seems to me that engineers that are capable of healing from the “performance review disease” will eventually be the ones that will grow the most. This disease causes engineers to make decisions based on a short-term view of the next performance review. It causes them to focus on how they are perceived within the company. And most importantly — it blocks them from taking risks and from failing. I know several very bright engineers that could not let go of this feeling — which led them to experience mental stress and eventually leave the company altogether.
On the other hand — those engineers that are capable of getting over this “disease”, will be the ones that accept the challenges, take the risks, enjoy the process, enjoy failing (and learning from those failures). This is something the company strives you to do. Those are the things that push the company forward.
It might result in one less preferable performance review, but it’s all part of the process. Those engineers will eventually be the ones that grow and get promoted. And this — as well — is very visible within the engineers I see around me.
From my point of view and based on stories I hear from the people around me — the performance review disease catches every new employee. A possible strategy to handle it, the one that worked for me — is to make sure you are set up for success in your initial time in the company. Look for easy wins, make sure to execute them well. Build your self confidence, and the company’s confidence in you. Having this confidence will allow you to slowly but surely move to a growth mindset, and maintain it over long periods of times. For me it worked well.