The value of growth mindset and cognitive diversity

Like many of you, I was fortunate to join some of the sessions at the online National Children and Adult Services conference last month. I thought the conference was brilliant, especially given it was delivered virtually. For me there was something quite personal about it – it felt like the speakers were presenting directly to me through my laptop, all in the comfort of my own space! Obviously, I missed the getting together with others, but what a great alternative under the circumstances.

As ever, it was a precious opportunity to pause for a moment and take some space to reflect and challenge my thinking. One session that really impacted with me – in addition to Jenny’s Presidential address and DCS colleagues’ inputs of course – was Matthew Syed’s session on ‘Creating a high-performance culture through growth mindset and cognitive diversity’. I am sure many of you have heard of him or heard him speak previously, even if you didn’t manage to join his session at the conference. I have seen him present before and years ago I even bought his book ’Bounce’. I’ve also drawn on Dr Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindsets that Matthew referred to, although this has mostly been in relation to school leadership.

As a relatively new DCS, what Matthew said resonated with me differently this time. I have been giving a lot of thought and consideration to the culture within our organisation and the dynamic process of systematic continuous improvement, particularly against the backdrop of living through, and responding to, a pandemic.

We know that culture starts with leadership, and as leaders one of our key roles is to develop a culture where best practice can flourish. And when I say leaders, I mean distributed leadership, as everyone is a leader in their own right. I was interested in the notion that to focus on and value talent is not enough in itself to improve outcomes for children, it’s more about what we do with the talent and how this is nurtured within an organisation.

Matthew Syed talked about the curse of expertise - where ego, elitism, and the drive to be better than others rather than a better version than before, can work against growth and development. In contrast, a growth mindset believes in human development, coupled with potential and constant learning, where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities. The research has shown that this way of approaching the world better enables innovation, collaboration, and commitment.

He also talked about organisational value being built on collective intelligence rather than the intellectual brilliance of individuals. This is crucial at a time when our issues are too complex for individual practitioners or organisations to solve on their own. The importance of embracing diverse perspectives is key to developing collective intelligence. It’s tempting to surround ourselves with those that think the same as us, as this can provide validation. However, if we want to push the boundaries with creative solutions to complex problems, we need people who offer different perspectives, from different frames of reference.

As is often said, we are living through unparalleled times. This year has presented challenges for every one of us, at every level. For me, now more than ever, it has been important to foster an environment where there is an openness, honesty, and willingness to learn and collaborate with compassion. The temptation is to close down. But we don’t. Because we are driven to make a positive difference and improve the lived experience and life chances of children and families. So, thank you to Matthew and the conference experience for helping with my thinking and providing a much needed boost of energy and inspiration!


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