Things I learned from my nine-year-old

Written by Special Contributor Jeff Davey, Software Defined Data Centre (SDDC) Practice Lead at VMware Canada.

In a rural town by Lake Simcoe in Ontario, Canada was a teacher (Ms. Mercer) that made a lasting impression on my youngest daughter, Sarah. She came home one day and told me there are two types of people in this world and wanted to know what type of mindset I use. I have taken most of the usual personality tests over the years and found they made little to no impact on my day-to-day work.

But when my nine-year-old showed me this image, it shook my thought process to its core. I then read the book it comes from, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which changed my general output in a lasting way.

Source – Carol Dweck

According to the author Dr. Carol Dweck, there are two key mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

  • In a fixed mindset, an individual believes their basic qualities like intelligence are determined traits. Success is dependent on these traits – and you only have so much of them.
  • This can be juxtaposed against a growth mindset, where people believe their basic abilities can be developed and consistently evolve in the face of challenge. Rather than an end point, in a growth mindset, traits like intelligence and talent can be constantly developed; learning and adapting bring higher levels of achievement.

This isn’t a new concept – Dr. Dweck’s book was published in 2006.  But what strikes me is how the principle of mindset can be extended beyond our internal thinking to the things we do, particularly in IT.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a major shift in where we run our applications. It started with the consolidation of compute infrastructure in the data centre.  Then cloud technologies emerged, eliminating the need for data to have a physical storage location. Now, technologies like 5G, IoT and mobile edge computing are moving applications out of data centres to the edge.  Instead of data centres, we now have ‘centres of data’ with more opportunities for end-users to have access to the applications they need, on any device, anytime.

In most cases, these ‘centres of data’ have been constructed around tried and tested concepts and hardened, fixed policies. On the flip side, businesses are demanding resources focused on growth patterns and flexible IT operations that break the model of the traditional framework we have spent a lifetime supporting.  In and of itself, IT is an industry driven by a growth mindset, but in many cases, organizations are still trying to approach security, cloud and the digital workspace experience with a fixed mindset approach. This simply won’t work in the future of IT. So how do we move away from the need for fixed policies, without feeling like we’re jeopardizing the network? We need to find new paths and stop worrying about risk, in favour of building resilience for the future.

Take the example of a company that made a big splash in its industry twenty years ago by creating a game-changing product. While this product helped the company sustain its growth for many years, eventually market saturation made it impossible to continue growing.

Facing the threat of shrinking market share, the company took a hard look at itself and made a major mindset change. The company’s leaders changed strategy and added external and natural R&D. They changed their entire go-to-market strategy to create what is now known as ‘the essential, ubiquitous Digital Foundation.’

If you’re wondering what company I’m describing, know that this organization is experiencing growth ahead of most of the cloud software industry. Need one more clue? It’s led by CEO Pat Gelsinger.

I’m talking, of course, about VMware. Major shifts in our market have prompted our transformation and today emerging solutions are key to our business. We adjust, leap the chasm and relentlessly move forward with a winning business culture and growth. It’s our mindset that fuels all this.

This example — like many others — shows the benefit of being relentlessly curious, without fear of testing the traditional. Remember, Dr. Dweck says there are two ways to think about a problem that’s slightly too hard for you to solve: are you not smart enough to solve it, or have you just not solved it yet? We, as an industry, require a child’s view of our methods and thinking: unabashed, inquisitive and always seeking for new paths, and for a greater outcome – whatever your personal or business aspirations may be.


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