Q: Anonymous, Captain, 42:
“I’ve made a couple of really poor hiring decisions this year. Our live-aboard boss can be pretty challenging and I have a very small crew budget, so I hired two young guns who weren’t hugely experienced, but were super-confident and had a bunch of courses under their belt. I thought they’d be the right fit, but they just wouldn’t learn better ways to do things, were cocky and lazy, resented the owner’s demands, and couldn’t take the slightest bit of constructive criticism without getting defensive and sulky. I couldn’t believe they were the same professional-seeming guys I interviewed. I got the feeling these boys had cruised through life so far and this was the first time they’d been challenged by authority and difficult situations- and they just completely flunked out. I had to let them go, but I’d love to know how to see through this kind of candidate in future.”
A: The Crew Coach:
In these cocky young men that crumbled under pressure, you have almost certainly just encountered what’s called in psychology circles a ‘fixed mindset’. The term comes from Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist who wanted to know why some exceptionally talented people fail to meet their potential over time, often eventually falling behind those more modestly talented ‘grafters’ who just kept slowly improving. One example was elite sportspeople who were picked out young as being outstanding talent, but who just failed to really make it, often rejecting any advice as criticism, refusing to train hard, and ultimately just expecting their raw talent to get them through.
What is a fixed mindset?
People with fixed mindsets have the core belief that their gifts—whether it be sporting ability, academic intelligence, and even personality— are given at birth, and cannot really be improved in any meaningful way. Therefore, these people will always see any criticism as a personal attack, because they don’t believe they can get significantly better. For the same reason, they’ll also be jealous of any other talent around them, and fear failure as they believe it is solid proof that they cannot be as talented as they thought they were.
Consequently, you’ll often encounter fixed mindset people who just refuse to really try hard- because they worry that they might not be very good at something (and this is key: they don’t believe they can become good at things they aren’t ‘born’ to do well.)
Key beliefs of fixed mindset people:
If you really have to work hard, you’re not that good in the first place
Criticism is a personal attack on how good you are
Challenges are something to avoid as they might show you up
Failure is someone else’s fault
Are you recognising any of this in your deckhands’ behaviour? Your ‘young guns’ exhibit classic tendencies of fixed-mindset thinking by refusing to learn how to do things the proper way, not putting in enough effort, and reacting badly to criticism— yet still retaining that appearance of cocky confidence in their ‘god-given’ abilities.
In truth, your seemingly confident candidates were the very opposite of confident, because their belief in their abilities is rooted in the fear that they can never truly improve.
So, what’s the alternative?
A growth mindset candidate is a great hire, as people with growth mindsets believe that their talents are highly malleable and can be improved with a bit of effort. Growth mindset people don’t fear failure as they see it as a growth opportunity: an opportunity to learn; to be better; to achieve something new. To a growth mindset person, effort is what makes them great, not genes.
Interview questions to identify fixed mindset candidates:
Which aspects of your job do you need to do better? For a fixed mindset person, admitting their weaknesses is painful, as they don’t believe they can improve on their performance.
When have you failed? This question can also set off feelings of awkwardness and even resentment in a fixed mindset interviewee, as failure is perceived as proof of not being good enough.
Which other deckhands (or insert role here) do you admire and why? Asking them to name someone who does the same job as them really well could make them uncomfortable, as they feel like they should be the only one succeeding.
What did you learn from the last piece of criticism you received at work? A fixed mindset person will probably try and make excuses for the criticism, whereas a growth mindset person will show that they took something from it to improve.
You certainly don’t have to ask all of these questions as you might sound like you’re interrogating your candidates, so just choose one or two and really observe their reactions and their willingness and authenticity in answering.
What if you’re a fixed mindset person?
A lot of people reading this will be coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that they’re more fixed mindset than growth mindset —but never fear, as mindset can be changed. Schoolchildren who showed fixed mindset traits in testing but were told about the very existence of growth mindset developed growth mindsets within a year- an astonishing example of how malleable our minds are once we let them grow.
In fact, lots of us are fixed mindset in some areas of our lives and growth mindset in others, as mindset is a spectrum rather than a dichotomy. Knowing this presents a wonderful opportunity to start identifying your fixed mindset triggers and moving towards a growth mindset overall – as teachability is a number one asset in all successful people.
I hope you’re able to take some of this information towards not only hiring the right mindset, but also using your leadership role to help your whole crew to develop a growth mindset.
Good luck and let me know how you get on!