There’s only two types of failure: the failure to learn, and blame

This seems to be a theme in the world of ideas right now.  Not only does learning underpin agile thinking, but it seems as thought it’s being distinguished from the background noise in wider thinking about the psychology of success.

Two excellent books discuss this:

Mindset by Carol S. Dweck

Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson

I’ve just noticed that Succeed has a foreword by Carol Dweck, although I’d come to these two books by different routes.  Who knew!

Mindset proposes that there are two mindsets.  One has it that your ability is fixed, and so if something seems hard, it’s because you just don’t have the chops.  Thinking like this makes failure a failure of self, and so people thinking this way will invest heavily in avoiding failure, possibly resorting to blame as a mechanism to place the source of failure somewhere, anywhere other than in their own lap.

The other has it that any ability can be learned, so failure is just not getting what you’re after yet.  Yet!

The book expands on this, and is full of “Aha!” moments.  Why do people think the way they think?  Can they change that?  Read the book!

Succeed takes a good deep dive into very similar thinking.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve read a pile of books on goal-setting, success, and achievement.  Me, I love to “get” the first principles of things I’m interested in.  Maybe not when I’m getting started and just following others across the minefield, but when I’m starting to tiptoe up on mastering something, well, that requires knowing the first principles so that I can build on a solid foundation.

So how exactly does goal-setting work?  What’s going on with the squidgy bits and wiring inside your noodle when you set a goal?  What exactly is willpower?  The very word used to make me feel exhausted, until I read Halvorson and got it.  Why did all the positive thinking I tried and tried to be positive about, positively positive, make no difference and usually leave me feeling like cracking a beer and putting my feet up instead?  Read Halvorson.

Once you have, $10 says that you’ll understand a great deal more about why agility works so well in the slippery world of software and knowledge work.

Note: just saw that one of my favorite agile authors, Jurgen Appelo, put up a blog post on almost exactly this subject.  Read his book Management 3.0 if you have anything to do with agility, management, or um… breathing in the 21st Century!  Great book.

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