- The Right vs. Learning Mindset - Why Curiosity Matters
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November 29, 2023

It’s tempting to dig into our viewpoints and defend them at all costs. However, clinging too tightly to being right can limit our ability to learn, grow, and innovate truly. As leaders, shifting our mindset from wanting to be right to welcoming learning is key to organizational success.

The Dangers of the “Right” Mindset

When we anchor into the mindset of wanting to prove we’re right, several perils arise:

  • We stop listening and talking past each other instead of engaging openly. As Rebecca Solnit observed, “Certainty is the enemy of learning.”
  • We become rigid and defensive instead of adaptable to new information. As Solnit reflected, having a change of mind shows you still have one in working order.
  • Innovation and outside-the-box thinking get suffocated. Research by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson found that in the highest performing teams, a learning orientation remains widespread.

Adopting a Learning Stance

Leaders who balance conviction with curiosity reap the rewards:

  • They create psychologically safe cultures where status quos can be challenged without fear of retribution. Employees feel encouraged to speak up with new ideas or concerns.
  • More dissent and debate occur, allowing fresh perspectives to emerge compared to a culture focused solely on harmony or winning. Constructive friction fuels growth. Call this healthy conflict.
  • Decisions end up being wiser and moderated by listening to opposing views. Blind spots get addressed rather than ignored due to overconfidence in our assumptions.
  • Continuous improvement becomes baked into everyday operations rather than happening only reactively. With constant learning, organizations stay ahead of disruption.

As a leader, you set the tone for learning vs. wanting to be right. Here are some coaching questions to reflect on for yourself and your teams:

  • What would it look like to lead with more humility and curiosity day-to-day?
  • How could you role model openly acknowledging gaps in your knowledge? What would the impact be?
  • What rituals could consecrate learning? For example, starting meetings by voicing doubts and questions.
  • How might you incentivize teams to collaborate across differences instead of avoiding conflict?

Learning-focused leaders lay the cultural foundation for agility, innovation and growth. Letting go of being right opens new paths forward. By staying curious, listening deeply and bringing diverse thinkers together, we gain access to the full spectrum of wisdom available. Incremental progress gets replaced by transformational change.

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.