“Continuous improvement” was very in vogue when I worked in the Civil Service.
This is both a good and a bad thing.
The “growth mindset” states that it is far healthier, and more effective, to believe that your skills and talents can be improved through effort.
They are not inborn and fixed in stone.
However, this needs to be balanced by avoiding seeking the perfect result.
The idea that there is always more to learn can help you find the balance.
You and your knowledge are never “perfect” - so aiming for that is a false goal.
Instead, aim to learn and grow.
And this means honestly and humbly admitting that you don’t know everything, and there is room for growth!
Some people struggle with this.
I know I wasn’t always very good at admitting I didn’t know something at work - I felt like that would be a sign of weakness.
I came to realise that it is, instead, a sign of strength.
This tension is very human – and, as usual, the Ancient Romans had a myth to illustrate every facet of human behaviour...
Jupiter, the King of the Gods, looked down on his Kingdom one day.
He was very pleased with it.
He was feeling particularly fond of the animals he had created.
Some were beautiful; some were talented; some were entertaining.
He thought he’d done a good job.
But, as he was feeling very generous, and he realised there was always room for growth, he decided he’d offer them a gift.
So he descended down to the earth in his fiery chariot, and called all the animals to him.
“I, Jupiter, King of the Gods, have decided, in my wisdom and generosity, to make you an offer.
Each of you has particular talents: Monkey, with its long tail to swing through the trees; Zebra, with its camouflaging stripes; Otter, with its amazing swimming ability.
But there might be more that you each want.
So I am going to give each of you a chance to ask for an extra talent. I, Jupiter, your creator, can do this.
So think carefully and ask wisely.”
The animals heard Jupiter’s words, and there was a murmuring among them.
Then Bear coughed.
“Well, Jupiter, now you mention it, I’ve always thought that the Elephant looks a bit stupid. I mean, what on earth is that long trunk all about? And those ears?!
We’re both big, but I’m in excellent proportion - I am a very fine form! Elephant looks ridiculous. Can you do something about that please?”
Jupiter was a bit surprised by Bear’s words - he’d told each animal to ask for an extra talent, not to start criticising each other.
But before he could say anything, Antelope spoke up.
“Bear’s right! Elephant does look ridiculous. But do you know who looks even more ridiculous? Giraffe! That long neck is a joke.
I am beautiful and elegant, and to be honest, I am offended to be sharing the plains with such a stupid looking animal. Jupiter, please can you sort that out?”
And that was it - the flood-gates opened.
Hare criticised Hedgehog for its spines; Seagull criticised Pelican for its beak; Flamingo said how disgusted it was by Vulture; and Ant said that Centipede was an embarrassment - all those legs! Unnecessary.
Jupiter couldn’t believe it.
Here he was, a God, saying that his creations could be improved upon, and offering the animals the chance to ask for additional talents.
And instead, all they could focus on was what they perceived as the failings of others.
This was pride!
And he got very angry…
“SILENCE!” he roared.
“I am disappointed in you all. I offer you a chance to improve yourselves, and all you can do is criticise others!
Well, you have missed your chance. I retract my offer - and I will never make it again.
You will have to live in your pride with your talents as they are now - fixed.
I hope you realise what you have lost in refusing to take this opportunity for growth.”
And with that, he got back in his flaming chariot and returned to Mount Olympus.
The animals looked one another sheepishly.
And with a few muttered apologies, they dispersed back to the sea, the land or the sky.
Are you like these animals, unable to see how you could learn or grow?
Or are you like Jupiter, able to admit that even his godly creations could be improved?
Things to do and consider
Look at your job description, and your most recent performance review. Which one particular area of your skillset would make the biggest difference if it was improved? And how could you go about making that improvement: additional formal training? Informal coaching? On-the-job learning? Decide on one area, and one action, and then implement and keep reviewing how else you can make small improvements.
And on this "Back to School" week, do encourage your children (if you have them) to focus on the opportunities of a new school year to learn and grow (rather than fear that they "can't do it" or that "it will too hard"...)
It might be hard at the beginning, but all new endeavours are hard to start with, that's normal!
What's important is how they approach these challenges: with a spirit of optimism and a belief that, if they apply themselves, they will do it!
p.s. this was my final Summer Story - back to usual with more practical and directly applicable blogs next week...
Here is the full list if you'd like to revisit any stories!
When it's good not to be competitive - three inspirational examples of collaboration from the world of athletics
The importance of listening to understand, not just reply - Arachne and Athena
Commitment - it's what makes a team work - the Chicken and the Pig
Being honourable (rather than just responsible) - the Next Emperor of China and the Empty Pot
The power of self-belief - Julius Caesar and the Pirates
Why you need to be your own cheerleader - the Toad and the Tower
How discipline can change the universe - Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Why you need to believe you can learn and grow - Jupiter and the animals
Which was your favourite?
p.p.s for help with developing a growth mindset, do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, at this time of fresh starts, if you admit you need help with setting yourself a new career direction, there are two places left on our 21st September Retreat - click here for more info and to reserve your place: https://kirstengoodwin.krtra.com/t/zHotKOCP1urK.