Why a Growth Mindset Matters for the Oscars and the Law

mindsetThere’s an interesting controversy that you may have missed on Sunday’s Oscars. It has to do with streaming v. theater releases. On one side is a very deep-pocketed Netflix that continues churning out streaming movie after streaming movie, spending billions of dollars to acquire exclusive content that they first release to their streaming platform. On the other side, well, pretty much every other big movie maker in the business. They demand that movies only be first released in theaters and that streaming-exclusive movies remain ineligible for award recognition. Streaming services are destroying the in-theater cinema experience, they argue. Awarding Netflix an Oscar would simply accelerate the process.

The Changing Legal Profession

Do these arguments sound familiar to you? If they do, then it’s because a similar debate is engulfing our legal profession right now. On one side we have the many disrupters of law – AI, data analytics, alternative legal providers, non-lawyer ownership, online review websites, smartphone apps, and client portals. On the other side, we have the many practitioners of law who view the oncoming robot revolution with dread, fear, and concern. It’s precisely why we host our annual The Future Is Now conference here in Chicago.

Being a lawyer is challenging. And it’s changing. Like the Oscars, we are at a crossroads. We have passed the point where we can hope the challenges to delivering legal services will simply disappear. Instead, we need to decide how we will view these challenges. Do we engage with them, fail more than we succeed, and then give up and go back to our traditional way of practicing law? Or do we engage with them, fail more than we succeed, and continue to learn how to be better because of it? In other words, are we going to approach these challenges with a fixed mindset or a growth one?

Having a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset

Mindsets are beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities. Am I smart? Can I win this case? Am I a good lawyer? According to researcher Carol Dweck, we have two basic mindsets – fixed and growth. Those with fixed mindsets believe that talents and abilities are innate gifts and success or failure is already pre-determined. When people with fixed mindsets are faced with a challenge they cannot surmount, they don’t even attempt to try. Instead, they only attempt challenges they know they can win, and leave the other ones for those with more talent than them. If you don’t think you’ll ever figure out cloud-based software or two-factor authentication, then why bother learning it? Alternative billing is a money loser; what’s the point in giving it a try? I’m a baby boomer; technology has passed me; I’ll just let the millennials figure it out.

Then, there are those people with growth mindsets. A growth mindset centers on a belief that skills and qualities can be grown and developed through hard work, effort and perseverance. The destination is ideal, but the journey is where the learning takes place. It’s learning that makes you smarter and better. When you are challenged and hit an obstacle, you learn from that setback and try again. Your ability to fail or succeed is something you can cultivate or grow, through your efforts, strategies, and help from others. In a fixed mindset, success and failure are both the ends. In a growth mindset, success and failure are both points on a long journey of personal and professional improvement.

Which Mindset Do You Have?

Is a fixed mindset to blame for our profession’s slowness to adopt to new change? It is true that when challenges arise such as multi-jurisdictional practice and bar examinations, social media and advertising regulations, and start-up culture and non-lawyer ownership, the legal profession could move much faster than it is doing. However our profession does consist of 1.3 million lawyers, many of whom have readily adapted to numerous changes over the past half century and continue to do so. So instead of looking at what the entire profession is doing, look at what you are doing. What type of mindset are you adopting when faced with the transformation of your practice and your profession? Some thoughts to consider:

1.  When does your fixed mindset come into play?

Here’s what’s important about mindsets. We’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. For some activities, we have a fixed mindset (I can’t dance, I can’t run, I can’t write) and for some activities, we have a growth mindset (I can dance, I can run, I can write). You may have an excellent growth mindset for interviewing new clients, but a fixed mindset for networking for more business. So when does your fixed mindset come into play? When you’re tackling a new challenge? When someone new joins your team? When you fail at doing something you had your heart set on? When you meet someone for the first time and assume what they can or can’t do immediately? When you’re under stress at work? When you get criticized for a work product?  Some challenges trigger our fixed mindset. Other challenges trigger our growth mindset. What you need to do is understand when it happens.

2.  What did you learn from your failure?

You tried at something and you failed. Maybe you got rejected from a school or a board position or a job. If you have a fixed mindset, you will say that there were better candidates than you, or maybe you just weren’t the right fit, and end the story there. If you have a growth mindset, you will look back and consider what you can learn from the failure. What could you do next time to help yourself succeed? Who could you talk to? Could you apply to a different position, a different organization, a different industry? Could you call and ask for feedback on your application and why it was rejected? A growth mindset realizes that failure is only one step on the journey, rather than its ultimate end.

3.  Do you have a concrete plan for growth?

You know that you have a fixed mindset for certain challenges and abilities. You have tried something new and you have failed. You’ve reflected on the failure and you understand what you need to change. So that’s when you need to make a plan and follow through on the plan. When will you do it? Where will you do it? How will you do it? Visualize how you’re going to carry out your plan and actualize your plan.

Your Mindset and the Future of our Profession

What mindset will you have as our profession continues to transform? At our last Futures Conference, we asked attendees what one thing they would change about how they deliver legal services. Attendees responded that they would want to introduce alternatives to the billable hour, and increase their use of technology. In answering the follow-up question, what primary obstacles were preventing them from doing this, our respondents said they were to pressed for time, lacked sufficient funds to do so, were not in a position to make change, had difficulty finding alternatives, and needed more practical models to follow.

Those are real challenges. Some of them may seem insurmountable. But how you tackle them is key. Having a growth-oriented mindset is essential to help you learn from any failures that you may have, and chart your path to success.

And take note: on Sunday night, Netflix won its first Academy Award.

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Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

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