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In a rapidly changing world of work, embrace a ‘growth mindset’

In this new world of work, jobs are changing so rapidly. They are being unbundled, re-scoped, reassigned and eliminated at an increasingly accelerated pace. We can't imagine the jobs our kids will have when they graduate even five years from now, especially given the current half-life of a skill is about two and a half to five years.

And how will our current work force adapt to the constantly changing nature of work? How can we even fathom the skills that will stand the test of time, living in a world where machines are learning faster than humans? This uncertainty causes anxiety for those of us currently in the work force, and as parents of our future work force.

Enter growth mindset: the antidote to "future of work" anxiety.

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Growth mindset is a concept covered in depth in Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In contrast to "fixed mindset," the premise is that if you acknowledge that talents can be developed and great abilities built over time, you are more likely to succeed. It empowers us to take risks, seek feedback, learn from others and be more open-minded about opportunities. Growth mindset enables us to not only be open to evolution but also to better cope with the pace of change in this new world of work.

How we engender growth mindset in our future workforce

Teachers at a local elementary school are building growth mindset for their students…as early as kindergarten.

One of the Grade 3 teachers told me she had noticed fixed-mindset language both in herself and in her students. It was inhibiting growth – particularly in girls and specifically in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.

Her hope was to change the mindset from "I'm not a math person" to one that inspires passion through problem solving and creativity…and the "Power of the Yeti."

Power of the Yeti is how she encourages children to not look at their abilities as set in stone, but rather as progressing through hard work…and to think in terms of not being able to do something… "yet." Her magnetic board is covered in pairs of puzzle pieces, each connecting a fixed- and growth-mindset statement – for example, "This is too hard"(F)…"This may take some time"(G) – that the children use as motivation when they are stuck in fixed mindset.

I chatted with the students to see how growth mindset was helping them in the classroom, and was impressed to hear how they were "training their brains" to adapt. These seven- and eight-year old students have been taught the self-talk and given the tools to take risks, to try different problem solving strategies and to learn from others and from their own mistakes. The students are learning to recognize that there's always room to improve – and that they should strive to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.

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Imagine if our work force unilaterally thought in these terms…there would be far less angst about this uncertain new world of work… in fact, there would be much more excitement.

Three steps to apply these learnings to the workplace

1) Build awareness: Use language and tactics to shift fixed mindset to growth. For example, calling someone out for having "fixed mindset" or not allowing ideas to be dismissed unless there is documented reasoning why. Small tactics like these encourage risk-taking, collaboration and ultimately drive personal growth and innovation.

2) Encourage lifelong learning and unconventional career paths: Give employees the latitude to explore their passions and their strengths… and to evolve. You may be surprised who can become your next chief digital officer.

3) Reward (and don't penalize) career risk taking: When an employee takes on a developmental "stretch" role, and doesn't succeed, there must be a safety net. When employees see these situations end badly, trust is quickly eroded and risk-taking behaviour is stifled.

In short, growth mindset is the critical foundation to building future leaders and lifelong learners who are open to multipath careers. No longer do we graduate with a degree that keeps us secure in our vocation for 30 years… we all need to be open to continuous development and reinvention. Instead of seeing emerging jobs as intimidating and unattainable, let's stay curious and be open to possibilities: "I am not an AI specialist… yet!"

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