By Gabriella Giglio, EVP of Global HR at American Express
Openness to learning can have a profound impact on your life, relationships, and career. People with “fixed mindsets” believe particular behaviors and level of intelligence are set in stone and cannot be developed, while those with a “growth mindset” believe these qualities can be improved through your own efforts and experiences. Encouraging a growth mindset—a concept developed by Carol S. Dweck—has allowed American Express to evolve work habits, professional development, and ultimately foster a culture of learning and innovation.
In October 2012, we hosted our biannual Women’s Conference to provide our top 200 senior woman with the skills and resources to develop and advance to the top levels of American Express. That’s where I met Marissa Campise, vice president at Venrock, a Silicon Valley- and New York-based venture capital firm. Campise shared great stories about how embracing a growth mindset in a male-dominated industry was critical to her career progression. Fostering a culture of learning in the workplace is challenging whether one works at a small startup or a big corporation, so we addressed how companies can help employees adopt an openness to change. Here’s a portion of that conversation:
Giglio: We see apprehension to take risks and be open to failure as one of the biggest challenges to achieving a growth mindset in the workplace. We’ve really focused on motivating and empowering our employees to be innovative and creative, because that’s when the magic happens. For me, a turning point in my career was taking a role that required me to move to Hong Kong. At that time, Asia was not the growth market it is now and many questioned my decision. I learned so much in my time in Asia and gained a better understanding of what it meant to operate as a global company. The experience made me a better leader and fueled my desire to learn more about our business internationally, and as a result, I spent the next six years in London.
I know for you it was also important to take advantage of those new, sometimes daunting opportunities. Was there a time in your career where you had to take a risk to move your career forward?
Moving on from failure can be tough, but it can be easier when you know you’re succeeding or failing on your own merits
Campise: Absolutely. Joining Venrock last year was a huge risk, for example. I held a coveted position at another prominent venture firm and gave that up because I wanted to build big, sustainable companies, something Venrock is known for. It was also daunting to enter a new culture, where I would be the only woman on the investment team, but my colleagues were quick to bring me into the fold as part of the team. Venture capital as a business is all about taking risks—you are guaranteed to encounter failure—and sometimes those risks pay off in a big way. At Venrock, individuals are empowered to lead deals and learn from one another to make big decisions. It’s ok to try new things and explore the unpopular because sometimes the best opportunities are the ones that involve working in new, unchartered territories.
Giglio: But when those failures do happen, it can shake an employee’s confidence. We found it important to help employees shift their thinking, have them start to think about failures as opportunities to learn. Rather than sweeping mistakes under the rug, help them realize success can only happen because of missteps. It’s about learning and identifying what needs to change, how to change it, and to apply that knowledge moving forward.
Campise: Moving on from failure can be tough, but it can be easier when you know you’re succeeding or failing on your own merits. Especially for women, I think we’re in a better position to accept failure in a culture built on meritocracy. And while it is important to learn from your failures, I also try to prioritize what’s most important in life to put failures and problems into perspective. For me, family, close friends, and health all comes first. The rest has a solution.
Giglio: That’s a very good point. It’s important to know your priorities and to let them guide your decisions, which takes courage. We try to help our employees develop these softer skills, and their business skills, as they advance in their careers. We offer concrete learning paths and programs that help them develop the specific professional and business skills needed to lead others. Mid-level managers benefit from these experiences the most because their leadership style and openness to change has the potential to influence the next-generation workforce.
Campise: I think most people don’t really feel like they know who they are or what they’re capable of early in their careers. Either they will embrace opportunities to grow and learn, which will help build self-awareness and confidence, or it will prove too difficult to have a winning attitude, creating more challenges and road blocks for one’s career path. You have to challenge yourself, pick yourself up, and move forward. Make sure you also celebrate your successes and find those ways to inspire yourself, so you are always driving towards something.
It’s important to know your priorities and to let them guide your decisions, which takes courage.
Giglio: At American Express, we talk a lot about the fact that “growth mindset” is built on courage. You need to have the courage to be open to learn, to see the possibilities, and take risks, knowing that they might not always work out as planned. Anything else you’d like to add, Marissa?
Campise: Most organizations don’t encourage risk-taking and instead punish failure. Innovation won’t emerge from organizations like this. In the startup world, we do everything we can to encourage risk-taking. Don’t be afraid to think differently. In history, some of the greatest entrepreneurs are the ones who took the greatest risks and dared to explore uncharted territory. At Venrock, we have found that many of our successful companies achieved greatness doing something different from their original idea. Navigating their way to success required bold thinking, risk-taking, and an openness to change. Those qualities have to be in their DNA. In the VC industry, you can’t find those types of entrepreneurs if you don’t embrace the way they see the world. We search for that force.
Giglio: Marissa and I both believe a growth mindset can absolutely be developed, and it starts with the realization that every day is a learning opportunity. I’d encourage employees to seek new experiences, and learn from the challenges and failures that occur. If our employees are constantly changing and adapting, it’s not failure. It’s ensuring a winning strategy for them and the company.