I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Since taking over as CEO just three years ago, he’s used a combination of effective leadership and brilliant business moves to return the tech company to relevance.
In a recent interview with Business Insider, Nadella credits Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s best-selling book, Mindset, as the inspiration for the culture he’s trying to build at Microsoft.
“I was reading it not in the context of business or work culture, but in the context of my children’s education. The author describes the simple metaphor of kids at school. One of them is a ‘know-it-all’ and the other is a ‘learn-it-all,’ and the ‘learn-it-all’ always will do better than the other one even if the ‘know-it-all’ kid starts with much more innate capability.”
“Going back to business: If that applies to boys and girls at school, I think it also applies to CEOs like me, and entire organizations, like Microsoft.”
We could summarize this brilliant strategy in one sentence:
“Don’t be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all.”
Why this is great advice.
There’s no shortage of self-proclaimed experts, authorities, and gurus out there. But self-proclaimed titles aren’t only useless, they’re dangerous.
My colleague Mandy Antoniacci explained why in a past column:
“For me, referring to yourself as an ‘expert’ in any field assumes the position that you have reached your fullest potential. It implies you have attained a thrilling pinnacle in your career and that your thirst for knowledge in a particular subject has been quenched.”
In other words, experts consider themselves “know-it-alls.”
But instead of considering yourself an expert, what if you think of yourself as a student?
Now, you’ve switched your focus. Instead of limiting yourself or becoming overly concerned with how you are viewed by others, your primary concern is one of growth. Mistakes are no longer “failures”; rather, they’re learning opportunities.
And that influences your entire approach to work and life.
For example, notice how Nadella has implemented this mindset at Microsoft:
“Some people can call it rapid experimentation, but more importantly, we call it ‘hypothesis testing.’ Instead of saying ‘I have an idea,’ what if you said ‘I have a new hypothesis, let’s go test it, see if it’s valid, ask how quickly can we validate it.’ And if it’s not valid, move on to the next one.”
“There’s no harm in claiming failure, if the hypothesis doesn’t work. To me, being able to come up with the new ways of doing things, new ways of framing what is a failure and what is a success, how does one achieve success–it’s through a series of failures, a series of hypothesis testing. That’s in some sense the real pursuit.”
Nadella certainly practices what he preaches. (For example, check out the extraordinary email he sent employees after what many considered an “epic fail.”) And when the leader sets the example, it sets the tone for everyone else.
So, whether you’re a CEO, an employee, a parent, a child, or all of the above, try it out today:
Test the hypothesis. If it works, figure out how to make it better. If it doesn’t, move on to the next idea.
But no matter what, remember:
Don’t be a know-it-all. Be a learn-it-all.