The Power of Yet

Failure is a necessary cost of progress. Fail fast, fail forward, and recover quickly. Those are words to live by. At the heart of entrepreneurial success is embracing failures and challenges. 

Granted, this is easier said than done. Many of us dread challenges and are crushed by failure. There are some people, however, who do not seem to shy away from challenges and are unfazed by failures. So, not everyone can achieve that; they are just built differently, right?

Well, not quite.

Dr. Carol Dweck, a social scientist, had a similar question. She wanted to know why some people wilt in the face of failure and avoid challenges while others who are no more talented embrace challenges and thrive through them. 

After fifteen or more years of hard work, she concluded that the key was in a person’s mindset. She identified two mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. She explains her findings in her bestselling book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

The hallmark of the fixed mindset is the belief that only some special people are born with the talents and intelligence needed to be successful, that some have what it takes and others don’t. The school system reinforces this belief with a marking system that is designed to identify “A” students and “D” students.

When people with a fixed mindset make a mistake or experience failure, they view it as evidence that they are not smart enough, and this is devastating to them because they believe intelligence is fixed. Instead of moving past their failure, they let it define them. Hence, they fail to reach their full potential.

The devastating effect failures have on fixed mindset people makes them less likely to risk failure. And since embracing a challenge would mean risking failure, they avoid challenges. They also avoid effort because they view intelligence as fixed, as something that effort cannot change. 

In contrast, people with a growth mindset know talents and intelligence can be developed with the right amount of effort. Hence, they are not concerned with appearing smart. Rather, they focus on becoming smart by putting in a great amount of effort to enhance their knowledge and skills. 

They view mistakes as part of their learning process. They don’t let failure define who they are as a person. Rather, they view it as something temporary, as a learning opportunity. Because they are not afraid to fail, they are more likely to embrace and thrive through challenges. They keep trying, and often times they eventually succeed. 

Dweck explains that we all have a mixture of growth and fixed mindsets. Some people grow rapidly in some areas and stagnate in others.

We see this with entrepreneurs who create profitable businesses, but after a few years, the business stops growing. In some cases, there are clear business reasons like the size of the market or personal commitments of the owner that hinder growth. But most often it is a set of fixed mindsets that are holding the business back. Hence, the growth mindset is the starting point of all progress. If you want to achieve something substantial in life, the starting point is always the growth mindset.

Is there a simple go-to formula that unfailingly invokes the growth mindset? There is: triggering ‘the power of yet’ or, more accurately, ‘the power of not yet’.  

Dr. Dweck explains this idea in her classic book Mindset:

Many of the most accomplished people of our era were considered by experts to have no future. Jackson Pollock, Marcel Proust, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Lucille Ball, and Charles Darwin were all thought to have little potential for their chosen fields. 

But isn’t potential someone’s capacity to develop their skills with effort and coaching over time? And that’s just the point. How can we know where effort, coaching, and time will take someone? Who knows—maybe the experts were right about Jackson, Marcel, Elvis, Ray, Lucille, and Charles—in terms of their skills at the time. Maybe they were not yet the people they were to become.

In a TED Talk “The Power of Yet,” Dr. Dweck opened with a powerful story about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate. Instead of failing grades, the school wrote “Not Yet” on the report card. 

These two words gave students hope they could indeed pass if they tried again, motivating them to keep trying. This simple switch avoids the stigmatization and trauma of failure. Not yet reverses our conditioning and encourages perseverance. 

A good leader will take inspiration from anywhere, even a classic Sesame Street song. “The Power of Yet” sung by Janelle Monáe features appearances by Elmo, Cookie Monster, Super Grover, Big Bird, The Two-Headed Monster, and the kids:

You tried to add, but the numbers came out wrong
You tried to sing, but you didn't know the whole song
You tried to cook, but the food, it didn't taste right
You tried to dunk, but you didn't get enough height
You didn't get it right now, but you're trying, and soon you will learn how
You just didn't get it yet, but you'll get it soon I'll bet 
That's the power of yet, yet, yet, yet, yet. 

In the future whenever you hear a child, an employee, a colleague, or yourself saying “I just don’t get it,” simply add “yet”. 

Written March 2022, by John Mill, Founder © Intelligent Work Inc.

Editing and production by Dagmawit E. Demere

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