Hi friends (and new readers 👋🏼), Steven here. This is Product Matters, a semi-regular newsletter on Products and Strategy. Each issue I try to share something I’ve written – usually on the topics of products, digital strategy, and design.
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For the last few week’s I’ve been reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the seminal book on the topic of the growth mindset, the belief that our abilities are malleable and can be changed. I had been familiar with the topic previously and was a strong believer in the growth mindset. That said, most of what I’ve read (~60% through) has been examples of how the fixed mindset—the opposite of the growth mindset—manifests. From education to sport or business she pulls examples left and right. And friends, the evidence is damning. I have a fixed mindset. Dweck writes, “When people with the fixed mindset opt for success over growth, what are they really trying to prove? That they’re special. Even superior.” 🎯
All of this time I’ve spent believing in the value of growth and adaptability, yet I have so many telltale signs of a fixed mindset.
Reading this book while going through Write of Passage really ripped me open. It was like someone took a scalpel, extracted my inner soul, and shook it in front of my face saying “This is you. Like what you see?” I was forced to face my dependence on external feedback and validation. So now, I’m trying to learn in public. To accept incompetence and failure as temporary circumstance instead of personal attributes. In Write of Passage I had to accept that the point of the course was not to prove my writing ability, but to improve it.
I believe a growth mindset represents one of the only remaining competitive advantages you can have as both an individual and an organization. As an individual, your ability to learn better and faster than others, to learn without ego, will allow you to constantly improve no matter your domain. The growth mindset is one of those things that is painful enough to have that by finding ways to adopt it, you’ll set yourself apart. I’d recommend reading the book and following it up with a healthy dose of introspection to start to shed the fixed mindset.
Organizations who are adaptable in the face of change will stay relevant far longer than those who believe their advantages are fixed and impenetrable. What was unique, valuable, and relevant last year have become expected and commonplace. It’s only the companies that have teams of growth-oriented individuals, and the systems in place to support change. This approach, to learn faster than the competition, feels a bit like a cop-out of a strategy. I’m saying your strategy doesn’t matter as long as you can adapt to the shifting landscape. Simple. Just because having a growth-mindset and being adaptable sound easy, they’re not. And I’d argue that most strategies have been made fragile because of the lawless land of the internet and the power of technology. Some young coder across the world can duplicate most of your entire business in a weekend, ripping off your brand, and there’s not much you can do.
Better keep banking on that “brand name recognition” you’ve clung onto so tightly.
Unrelated, I’ve been having horrible lower back pain for the last couple of weeks. I’ve tried a bunch of different things—lumbar pillow, inflatable seat, stretching—with little effect. It kind of feel like I over-corrected my form one day in a workout and now my lower back is overcurved. I’m feeling a bit like Carol from this Stampede art.
Have you tried anything that’s worked well for you?
Our third assignment in Write of Passage was our “curation” assignment; we had to curate select articles, videos, or other content that represent a topic or author we enjoy. I chose Venkatesh Rao, my favourite internet writer. While I started off excited, this is my least favourite piece of mine. I hate it. It was so painful to write and even after extensive, valuable feedback, I’m not pleased with where I ended up. Regardless, I’ve published it and moved on with my life. 😇
Every month I get this report from Google that talks about my “search performance.” I can’t remember ever setting it up and my website is by no means popular. Despite that, this old post of mine is somehow the most viewed article on my site. I have no idea why people read or, it why it’s popular, but feel free to check it out. It’s a few different metaphors that might be helpful for how you think about managing your time.
Radical Candor is also not an invitation to nitpick. Challenging people directly takes real energy—not only from the people you’re challenging but from you as well. So do it only for things that really matter. A good rule of thumb for any relationship is to leave three unimportant things unsaid each day.
That’s all for this time. I’m always looking for feedback on both my writing and my ideas. Have something on your mind? Just reply to this email. I would love to hear from you and I read every response.
PS. I’ve tried adding a few sections to the email. What do you think?