A Stanford psychologist explains what managers can learn from a baseball team’s interviewing process

Baseball running catch
Look for candidates who demonstrate knowledge that they will have to build new skills if they get hired. Jamie Sabau/Stringer/Getty Images

How would you prefer to staff your organisation — with people who believe their abilities are what they are, or with those who are willing to put in the time and effort to develop their abilities to the fullest?

If you chose the second option because you think they will be more successful, the next natural question is: How can you find people like that?

Enter Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and author of the 2006 book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”

Dweck recently gave a talk at Google, in which she explained how to hire candidates who see their skills and talents as malleable as opposed to stable — or candidates who have what she calls a “growth” mindset as opposed to a “fixed” one.

Dweck and colleagues worked with a Major League Baseball team on spotting those with a growth mindset among potential draftees. The researchers instructed the team to ask draft choices questions such as, “Thinking about on-field success in the major leagues, what do you think you’d have to change?

According to Dweck, some draft choices said they’d have to get used to the cheering of larger crowds. Others, however, said they’d have to change everything: “I’ll have to take all my skills to a new level.”

While neither answer is correct per se, the second group demonstrates the kind of growth mindset that would be useful in the major leagues. “This knowledge that you might have to really reorganise and redefine yourself and build new skills is really important,” Dweck said.

In corporate settings, Dweck suggested another helpful question might be, “What were your greatest failures?

The goal is to see whether they take responsibility for their mistakes and what they ultimately gained from that failure. What you’re looking for is a readiness to learn and share credit.

Here’s Dweck:

Did they capitalise on [their failure] to do something even better than they could have imagined? Did they use it to put value added back into the company?

Or on the other hand, did they say, “I had this failure: I worked too hard.” Do they make it something that really reflects well on them? Or was it someone else’s fault?

Dweck’s insights are especially intriguing in light of recent research that suggests people are unconsciously more impressed by natural talent than hard work.

Knowing that, organisations might consider advising those in hiring positions to deliberately look for evidence of growth mindsets over fixed mindsets — in other words, to look for people who value hard work as much or more than natural talent.

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