Growth mindset for energy

Dec 7

For those of you who have yet read her book, go find Mindset, by Carol Dweck. Take it out of your local library, get it on your e-reader, buy it from your bookstore. It is a fantastic book and has particular relevance, we believe, for those of us who have been in the energy industry for decades. What is the state of the energy mindset? How do we promote a growth mindset for energy?

Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets

In order to understand the thinking and the philosophy behind Dweck’s work, try giving yourself the following test.

True? Or false?

“I feel competent and in charge of my energy costs. Anything that I don’t know, I can learn. Sometimes I don’t feel confident when I _________________(fill in the blank) about energy, but that’s all right. I can gain mastery over that challenge with effort and help.”

How about this: True? Or false?

“Energy is not my area of expertise. It is too complicated and confusing. I’ll leave it to the experts.”

What does it take to gain mastery over the topic of energy?

If you answered “True” to the first statement and “False” to the second, then you have a growth mindset about energy. On the other hand, if you answered “False” to the first statement and “True” to the second, you have what Dweck describes as a fixed mindset about energy.

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The Science behind Mindsets

For decades, centuries, even, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that your intellect and capability was fixed at birth. Whatever “nature” (or our parents, or our genes) gave us at birth was all that we had to work with. Now, according to Carol Dweck and others, scientists believe that we have the capacity to build new skills and talents.

There is more evidence, now, that we can build new capabilities well into later life. In fact, many scientists believe now that we are always able to build and develop the brain through lifelong learning. Dweck paraphrases Gilbert Gottlieb, an prominent neuroscientist, who says that “not only do genes and environment cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the environment to work properly.”

What do these theories have to do with energy?

From time to time we run across customers who have a keen interest in learning more about the industry. They want to understand the dynamics of energy markets, the technology that’s developing in our industry, etc. We love talking with these curious and motivated people.

But we find that these people are uncommon in our industry. And it is not your fault if your eyes glaze over when the energy topic comes up, or if you feel that mastery of energy markets and information is out of reach for you. The energy industry has been mired in a fixed mindset for a whole host of reasons. And it hasn’t served our customers or our industry well.

Why the fixed mindset in the energy industry?

It is never clear why certain mindsets develop in a corporation or an industry, but there are plenty of theories. If you look at a corporation, for example (and Dweck devotes a chapter in her book to Business: Mindset and Leadership), the shared mindset of an organization often begins with leadership attitudes at the top and is then perpetuated through corporate culture.

If leaders at an organization believe that their people come to work endowed with certain skills that are fixed and that you only hire for those skills, then a fixed mindset prevails. Such an orientation often leads to a “culture of genius”. Look no further than Enron for a great example of what happens when you think your people are the “smartest guys in the room”. On the other hand, if you lead an organization based on the principle that people can grow and improve, and that all people have a contribution to make, then you are more likely to promote a “culture of development”.

Theories on energy’s fixed mindset

We can not be certain as to why it seems the energy industry has a culture of fixed mindsets, but here are a few theories.

  • Energy can be inscrutable. Markets can be complicated.
  • Some people don’t find the industry interesting. That’s understandable.
  • People who manage energy are busy and often have many different responsibilities across the organization. They may not have sought out to manage energy in their organization, it may have just landed in their lap. Thus, they often do not feel they have time to gain mastery over one more thing.
  • “The Energy Industry” is daunting and seemingly monolithic. How could any one person possibly tackle it? Where to begin?
  • People who don’t feel they can learn or master a topic will hire others to do the heavy lifting.
    • Those organizations and individuals who do the heavy lifting want to keep their jobs and keep their contracts. So why enlighten and enrich your client base with transparency and information? It is not in your self interest.

So what can be done to create a ‘culture of development’ in energy?

Here are some suggestions about how to promote a growth mindset in yourself or in your organization, particularly around the topic of energy:

  • Trust that there is interesting and meaningful work in energy that is worth mastering.
  • Have faith that you are able to grasp these concepts. As we say around here, it isn’t rocket science.
  • Find some smaller piece of the energy industry that interests you and set a goal to learn about it. Without passion, it can be challenging to persevere and master a challenging topic. (Think of your experience with organic chemistry, and then let’s talk about passion.)
  • Trust us, energy is not organic chem. There’s a lot to be passionate about.
  • Ask yourself if you are in an organization that promotes growth and development? No matter the answer, work on promoting a growth mindset in your organization. Accept feedback, tackle tough problems, admit mistakes, encourage alternative views and constructive criticism. Play the devil’s advocate.
  • Seek resources that help you to develop mastery in your field.

MWh response to the fixed mindset in energy

We are doing our part to promote mastery in the energy industry. As we mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, we are launching The MWh University. We aim to deliver “knowledge and power in under an hour”. The MWh Unviersity will deliver short, bite-sized courses that will promote a growth and development mindset in the energy industry and among your colleagues.

Be one of the first 5 people to tell us which course would be most beneficial to you, and we’ll offer you a free seat in our pilot course.

Which course would you take first?
Select the course you would like to see us offer first in our Mastering Energy Cost Management pilot series.

Bottom line for energy and finance experts: The energy industry has not been known for its “growth” mindset. Often the people who feel the most responsible for energy decisions feel the least confident in their ability to make those decisions. This does not have to be true. Do your part to change your mindset about energy. We will do ours by bringing clear, transparent, short courses to you that will help you master your energy work. 

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