Ah, yes, Mindset.

So, last time, I blathered on about The History of the World in Three Minutes. The most important point, and I hope this was clear, was the the Industrial Revolution gave us (us = The West) a two-tiered education system. The Obedient Unskilled and the Proud Professional, to paraphrase.

Tender reader, strap yourself in, we have another point to make.  There is an excellent book, Mindset Carol Dweck (Random House, 2006). Carol Dweck is a psychologist who’s been researching her subject for many years. Read the book, but in summary, she proposes that there are essentially two mindsets.

The first, the “fixed” mindset, is best exemplified by say, a great tennis player. This guys knows he’s the best. He cannot lose. If a game doesn’t go his way, it’s not due to a failing of his, oh no. His shoelace broke, there was a reflection glinting in his eye, the line judge was asleep.  But him lose? No, impossible.

You here it in corporate speak “We only employ superstars!” You hear it in parents thinking they are encouraging their kids “We only want you to be the best you can be.”

The problem is that if someone is the best, and identifies that way, then any failing at all is a failure of Self. Which makes is impossible to either admit to failure, or even take on anything where failure is a glaring option. Or even a very subtle option.

It’s not even always about being the best.  It might be simply about being what you are.  Your test scores show that’ you’re a C in math.  So you know that you’re only so-so at math. “I couldn’t never do that job, it needs too much math, and I’m meh at math.”

What’s the second mindset? You probably guessed it, it’s the “learning” or “growth” mindset. This guy might not have won today, but he learned something and maybe he’ll win in the future. This girl got a C in math, but she’d like to get a B next time so she’s going to study.

[Stop Press! At this point, I interrupted my writing to attend the East Bay Agilistry Meetup where Dr Ahmed Sidky gave a talk titled ”The Agile Mindset: The Key To Being Agile Not Just Doing Agile”. He had some fabulous slides on Carol Dweck’s work, and there was much nodding and agreement going on!]

In light of Ahmed’s talk, and I’m hoping that he’ll be sharing the deck, we can cut to the chase.

The fixed mindset fears failure, as it’s a failure of Self. The growth mindset embraces failure as a learning opportunity. The fixed mindset reaches for certainty and tries to resist or control change. The growth mindset acknowledges uncertainty and embraces change as opportunity. The fixed mindset hates looking bad or stupid, the growth mindset just doesn’t care about that.

If you’re reaching ahead to seeing that the “old school” way of doing things equates to the fixed mindset and agility equates to the growth mindset, yep, we’re getting there, and we’ll bang that gong with a vengeance shortly.

But first I want to cover the why of the mindsets. Why do people think that way?  We’re not born with a built-in mindset.

John Taylor Gatto has written at length on the problems of Western schooling. He documents the history of the decisions and actions taken to implement methods of schooling specifically designed to support the Industrial Revolution. To summarize, two streams were required. One would produce unskilled obedient laborers and soldiers to do the hard physical work and be cannon-fodder, the other would produce highly self-invested professionals who would manage the others and provide the technical problem solving, all to benefit the owners of the industrial means of production.

The thing is, it worked incredibly well. The Industrial Revolution was the driving force behind the explosive growth of the 19th and 20th centuries. Never mind the politics, never mind the Dickensian and Orwellian aspects, all the benefits of modern life that drive our society today came from the industrial revolution.

But think of that second tier, the professionals.  Their work is knowledge work. As Ahmed so nicely put it, we keep working while the cost of the change we’re undertaking is assessed as being less than the value that change provides. And knowledge workers are all about driving down the cost of change. And as they focus on this, what comes right behind it? Technology!

Technology is all about finding more and more ways of enabling cheap change. So what do we get behind the Industrial Revolution, but a Technological Revolution!  Taa-daa!

But the thing is that the way the professionals had been taught to think was industrial.  It was about production lines, it was about nailing certainty, and ensuring that the means of production was predictable and completely controlled. The workers could be commanded “Do this, and do it thus, and keep doing it” and all would work.

Whoops. All this quest for certainty produced the technological revolution that brought with it the means for innovation that brought with it… uncertainty! Change! Yikes!

And the poor old professionals, still being churned out by the University System, a great machine that grinds exceedingly slow and exceedingly small (and at HUGE expense), the poor old professionals are still being taught to invest highly in their Qualification (ooh!) and still being taught to prepare for a career (a what?) and still being taught to believe in The Plan.

I’m going to pause, and find a dark corner, and give myself a quick rub-down with a damp copy of Oz Magazine from 1968, and wait until I calm down before I continue.

Up next… well, team, what do you think we’ll be talking about next…?


The History of Work in Three Minutes Flat

Humans as humans have been around for roughly 200,000 years. Some of the first are still waiting in line at the DMV.

It took that long to get to around 1 billion of us. That’ a pretty low population density, and anthropology suggests that there really was no such thing as “work” until agriculture started around 8,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Huh? Well, let’s start by defining “work” as I use the term here.  I don’t mean simply the plain dictionary definition “Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” I mean work that is done to produce a surplus, so that surplus can be used in some form of exchange to fulfill needs outside the result or immediate purpose of the work.

So when agriculture started, work was farming, which produced a surplus. This surplus had to be administered, and that in turn led to mathematics. How to divide this pile of grain amongst the people, and retain some for the administrators? It needed some simple sums, and that got math underway.

Fast forward, at least in the West, through Greek and Roman civilization, then into the Dark Ages. Want to know about command and control? Think feudalism and suddenly your boss might not look so bad!Daily Scrum?

For the next few thousand years, the majority of work took place in the field. Then back in the 18th century someone noticed that a boiling kettle rattles its lid, and bingo, the Industrial Revolution! (I know, there was more to it than that, but hey, three minutes.)

With that, the center of production moved to the factory.  Dad, and often Mom, and often Junior, were stuck in the factory for umpteen hours a day.

I’m not going to go into the dehumanizing effects in detail, I’m not going to touch on the dawn of socialism that sprouted from studies of the dismal conditions in the factories. But we need to note that it was dehumanizing, and I will be researching and qualifying this assertion. The point is that we did not evolve to work in factories. (Obedience ended up taking a bashing in due course. Russian Revolution anyone? French? American?)

Back to the plot. The smart money didn’t just go into the factories. The Prussians came up with an education system that graded pupils for likely job training. Roughly, they were looking for one stream who’s major requirement was that they should be obedient. They would do as they were told in the factories, and they would charge into the face of the enemies guns when ordered.

The other main stream was that of the professional. The professional could manage the obedient and solve the difficult problems. Accountants, engineers, lawyers, and so on, and the education was designed to have these people be very highly invested in their qualification. It was self-defining. I can’t prove it, but I’d guess that the social exchange that includes “So, what do you do?” “Oh, I’m a blah-blah” comes from this. The question is about doing the reply is about being. Remember this point.

It worked like a charm, and the benefits of the Industrial Revolution propelled us up to the 7 billion people on the planet today.

Taylorism (aka Scientific Management)) standardized work.  For Science! The humble worker was measured and quantified and became a fungible unit of production.  Moreover, Management became a profession. Who knew? “Swap them around, it doesn’t matter, I’m qualified to command them, the system will still work!”

And it did. Very well. (Never mind the squalor, feel the width!)

Well, here we are today.  The biggest outcome of the Industrial Revolution is Technology. The biggest outcome of Technology is Information. We no longer have a primarily industrial economy, we have an Information Economy.

We have an Information Economy.

But we have an Industrial Education…

In the next exciting episode, we’re going to discuss mindset and how simple it can be to transform what’s possible with a slight change in language. What’s that go to do with this week? Read on and you’ll see…

Forthcoming attractions!

Ok, I’ve been nudged back into blogging action by my recent contact with the Agile community in the Bay Area (San Francisco if you’re looking at a globe).

Here are the topics I’m thinking about and will be writing about in the coming weeks:

  • Neuroscience, agility, facilitation, and the besieged middle manager.
  • Social history, tea kettles, short-term problem solving and long-term problems.
  • AQAL once I understand more than how to spell it

Any one of these could morph into a PhD or a Tome of Significance if I’m not careful. Hands up everyone that thinks I’m careful…

Right then.