Charles Starrett

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Culture consultant & social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo & Northeastern University. He/Him. Dad, Harvard and NEC alum, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele, electronic music, 한국어, and TTRPGs.

A culture of learning

There is a danger in the “growth mindset/fixed mindset” model. If we label ourselves as not having a growth mindset, we can become “fixed” in that belief. The model itself can create the situation which the researchers were trying to free us from. If I believe I have a fixed mindset, then I become more self-critical and focused on all the ways that I struggle to learn from my mistakes.

The danger comes from the world “mindset” which focuses on the individual. What’s missing is acknowledging the role of the environment. The quality of the space I am in can support my feeling more open to learn, or can encourage me to close up, protect myself, and retreat into a fixed mindset.

There’s an odd comfort in the fixed mindset. Things are what they are. Even my shortcomings are “reliable” if I don’t expect myself to grow and transcend my limitations. I can create rules and definitions for everything in my environment and eliminate unknowns when I hold a fixed mindset.

To have a growth mindset, I need to feel safe enough to not know. Safe enough to believe that I could do better. Safe enough to feel that my worth is unconditional. Whether I succeed or fail, my being has worth and value. And I am worthy of trying harder and learning to do better.

As children, we relied on the adults around us to create an environment of psychological safety where we would feel safe to fail and learn. As adults, we have two sources: the sense of safety and worthiness we develop inside ourselves, and the one we co-create with each other in our environment.

We are each individually responsible for doing our own internal work, but creating the conditions for a healthy, learning environment is our collective responsibility. If you notice that your team or organization is being held back by playing it safe, not taking risk, or not learning from mistakes, it’s worth taking a look at the level of psychological safety in your culture.

What might be possible if your people felt more freedom, not only to take risks, but also to learn and grow from their mistakes? What does a culture of learning look like to you?

25 July 2022

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