Updated: Dec 5, 2019
The fourth in a series of workplace culture blogs written by Stacey Blease on behalf of VetLed
Is it a threat or a challenge?
I see new opportunities as experiences to learn and further develop myself. I like a challenge! About a year ago when I learnt that this is an aspect of having a ‘growth mindset’ as opposed to a ‘fixed mindset’ of believing that having an aptitude for something or not, is static. These terms were coined by Carol Dweck, a researcher in the field of motivation. Thinking back to my school years, I was more fearful of putting myself in situations unless I was pretty confident that the outcome would be positive. The fear stemmed from the possibility of failure or making a complete fool of myself so I was more likely to stay within my comfort zone. It felt like a threatening experience to try something new because generally, society deems that success is good and failure should be avoided at all costs. Talking about failure was (is? Depends who you are talking to) taboo. If we don’t try new things outside our comfort zone, how will we ever know what we are capable of? Trial and error are a part of the learning process.
A team of researchers from the University of Exeter carried out a study assessing the effect on golf putting performance when the activity was framed in a challenging versus a threatening manner. The study found that the participants who were given information about the activity in a way that made it sound like a challenge and the organisers had believed that they could do it, performed better than those who received information which framed it in a negative way stating that most people don’t perform the task very well (Moore et al. 2012). I can remember on several occasions vets telling me that it’s not too late to change my UCAS application form because being a vet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Does this kind of comment frame being a vet in a threatening way?
Synonyms of failure include words such as defeat, loss, inferior, unhappiness so it is perhaps unsurprising that the stigma associated with failing may be hard to shake off. Success is the antonym of failure, but is it really that black and white?
When I was working as an Editor-In-Chief for a journal and rejecting an article for publication, I made it clear that if the article was within the guidelines and scope of the journal, the article was not ready for publication yet. I felt very much like I was channelling my inner Carol Dweck. I was concerned that the authors would see the word rejection and stop reading the feedback I’d provided. Carol Dweck talks about the ‘power of yet’ which helps to give people the belief that with more time and effort, the goal can be achieved (Carol Dweck TED Talk).
Having been on the receiving end of the crushing unconstructive criticism from the infamous reviewer two, I strived to help authors by providing feedback that would help to improve their article for publication. My PhD supervisors helped me to normalise this failure of rejection and showed me how reviewer one provided some interesting points to help me further develop the manuscript. Reframing ‘failure’ can sometimes be tricky in isolation. I encouraged authors to contact me for clarification if any aspect of my feedback required it, and I was fortunate to be able to offer mentoring for authors from members of the supportive editorial board.
Just keep persevering?
People with a growth mindset won’t keep persevering on worthless challenges. Matthew Syed who is well known in the performance and cultural change arena wrote that “people in a growth mindset can pivot onto new challenges, but they are more likely to do so for the right reasons.” (Matthew Syed Consulting). My personal method is to observe and understand approaches, processes and situations to see what I can do to affect change. If, after persevering, things outside my control remain the same, I pirouette (rather than pivot but same principle and I like dancing!) onto the next adventure.
Maintaining a growth mindset
I have had my fair share of wobbles along the way! By framing opportunities as experiences to learn, therefore as a challenge, you have a more positive mindset and are more likely to succeed. Any ‘failures’ can be reframed which can be tricky but easier with a supportive friend/family member/colleague/mentor.
Moore, L., Vine, S., Wilson, M. and Freeman, P. (2012). The effect of challenge and threat states on performance: An examination of potential mechanisms. Psychophysiology. 49. 1417-25. 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2012.01449.x.
Matthew Syed Consulting https://www.matthewsyed.co.uk/6-most-frequently-asked-questions-bounce-matthew-syed/
Carol Dweck’s TED talk titled The power of believing that you can improve https://www.ted.com/speakers/carol_dweck
After graduating from the University of Liverpool Vet School with an intercalated Master’s degree from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Stacey worked in general practice. She completed her PhD at Harper Adams University on dairy herd health planning. Stacey has worked for an online CPD provider, The Webinar Vet and the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) as the Head of Learning & Development. Currently, Stacey is a trustee for the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF). Stacey's experience is diverse and her passions include research, education, organisational culture and innovation.