Over 50 books, hundreds of podcasts and articles, more than 48 magazines and countless blog posts have been read by me in the last two years. Add to that a bunch of documentaries and TED videos. Most of these works have been great. They added to my knowledge of marketing, business and life. Two however were standouts. Two books have profoundly changed the way I think about the world, myself and my business. Both books are about success and they seek to answer the question why some people are successful and why are some not. In the spirit of Seth’s recent blog post You Are What You Share, I’d like to share them with you.
Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is based on scientific research she conducted in an attempt to determine if there are innate qualities that make some of us successful and some not. What she finds is every one of us has one of two mindsets. One mindset, the growth mindset, gives us permission to try and try again. We take failure in stride, it’s part of the journey after all, and we keep working toward our goals. This mindset helps create a path that ultimately leads to success. The other mindset is called the fixed mindset. People with the fixed mindset believe that characteristics like smarts, humor, drive, etc. are fixed. You are born with them or you are not. When we have this mindset we give up too easily and never reach our potential.
Association cultures can also have a fixed mindset. We are who we are. We are an association and this is what associations do. We’ve been there, done that. We tried that before and it didn’t work. We are good at this but we are not good at that. A fixed mindset culture can be just as damaging to the organization as a fixed mindset can be to a person.
This book is great news for us because mindset is malleable. If we have a fixed mindset, and may of us do and many of our organizations do, we can move toward a growth mindset and future success. Reading this book is just the start of a far more satisfying and exciting life (and work life).
“Successful are those who have been given opportunities and who have had strength and presence of mind to seize them”, says Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. This book debunks the notion of every super successful person having gotten to the top by virtue of their own merit. Instead we learn about people like Bill Gates, hockey stars and prominent New York City lawyers that a critical part of their success came from opportunities given to them that they themselves had no control over. When they were born, where they lived and early life lessons they learned gave them the opportunity to grab opportunity when the opportunity presented itself.
The two important lessons from the book that can help us build our associations, our members and steer us toward success in our own lives are:
Early success breeds success – children lucky enough to go to the right school (and do well) are afforded the opportunity to go to another prestigious school, which puts them in touch with influential business owners, which lands them a great job. Success follow success (if we work hard). For associations this means following the success path. It means watching trends in the industry, the way our members’ work is changing, watching other innovations and tech and figuring out which of these things the association needs to engage in to serve members better. We’ll stumble a bit here and there but do it enough and we’ll eventually have a success. And then we can build on that success.
The other side of the equation, the side that Mr. Gladwell himself was focused on, had to do with how we recognize and reward potential and who we give those opportunities to. Inner city public school kids, even though they may be every bit as brainy as private school kids are not presented with the same early opportunities for success and what a loss of potential. The same happens in our associations. We assume subject matter experts come from big companies, have had prior volunteer experience, etc. When we look for thought leaders in all the same places we limit the potential in our membership and for the membership.
Grit & personal control are key – 10,000 hours is the threshold for moving from good to great. If we want to excel at anything the minimum amount of time to practice is 10,000 hours. That might be 10 years or more! This is true from professionals to athletes to hobbyists. Many associations market themselves at the premier organization in a profession or industry but how many speakers, writers, trainers, coaches, consultants and interviewees have mastered a skill or topic for 10,000 hours? Who really excels? And are we, the staff, working toward 10,000 hours of expertise?
We’re a culture that wants instant satisfaction and instant success. When we try something for the first time and members don’t immediately jump for it we get discouraged and tend to want to move on. Perhaps we’re just not good enough at it yet? Maybe the value’s not quite there or many the word hasn’t gotten out or maybe the story we’re telling isn’t right. Practice solving members’ problems more and more and we become better and better at it.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that both of these books are about success? It is worth noting that success doesn’t have to be Bill Gates style success. Our success may just be the kind of success where you delight your very best members and they invite you into their lives to delight them again.
If you are looking for success in 2015 and beyond I highly recommend reading, digesting and thinking deeply about these two books. How can their lessons apply to your association, your members and your life?