Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Innovation and Intellectual Growth

We all know the phrase: "Think outside the box." It's no longer an original dictum, in fact, it's now a corporate shill line for Taco Bell. Does anyone actually think outside the box anymore?

According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, the answer is yes. But her research shows that those people are the ones who are open to growth, and believe that their abilities can expand over time.

“Society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are ‘naturals’ with innate ability,” says Ms. Dweck, who is known for research that crosses the boundaries of personal, social and developmental psychology.

“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.”

I have to agree with Dweck, in assessing my own experiences and skill growth. I know I did much better in college courses when I was stretching myself to learn something new than when I took some required courses that covered topics I had already mastered. Seeking out learning opportunities and new experiences has brought me to new places intellectually, and helped to shape my plans for my future.

In the Information Age, flexibility and the ability to stretch one's skills will be key assets for anyone who wants to get ahead. People who refuse to learn the latest versions of MS Office, or don't grasp the connectivity of social media are going to have to keep up with those who try it all and are able to harness these resources. Today's world is all about embracing change, whether it's the manager learning new languages to expand business on a global scale, or an entrepreneur who invents the next iPod or Kindle.

We are all aware of the instability of the current job market; think of Dweck's "growth mind-set" as a crucial tool in job retention and a top element of your resume in a job search. With the industry giants on shaky footing, what companies need today are people who can think on their feet and introduce new ideas--from outside the box.

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