Build Teams of Incremental Learners

One of these days I was reflecting on the similarities that we have at Subvisual. It is true that we are notoriously different in our personalities, backgrounds, and experiences, but what were the common characteristics that accidentally or by choice we all have? It’s easy to spot the values that we share as a company being present in all of us. However, sometimes it’s hard to identify if they were consequences of joining this team or if they were already there.

One thing that we can definitively notice, and one of this days talking to our newest member, we rapidly conclude, we don’t have entity learners. As a matter of fact, sometimes I struggle with this fact when I ask some of my team members to present themselves as experts in something. For the ones that don’t know what entity means in this context, I will explain it and also the contrary of that.

Entity Learners

When you see someone saying “I’m good at JavaScript; I’m bad at Java,” probably this person can be perceived as an entity learner. Usually, they believe in fixed levels of intelligence. Intrinsically or involuntarily they think that their level of knowledge on a particular topic is fixed and there isn’t much they can do to change that. Another characteristic is that since they believe that success or failure depends on being “smart” or “non-smart”, they avoid risk or putting themselves in a position where they aren’t the experts on something.

Incremental Learners

Ask an incremental learner what is his level in a specific language, and you will see him struggling to give you an exact answer. Incremental learners believe their level of Intelligence is flexible and they need to keep working hard to grow their level continuously. When dealing with the success, they will say something like “I got it because I worked very hard at it” and when facing failure, they promptly responded “I should have tried harder” and grit their teeth to learn more and try again. They can incrementally evolve from novice to master.

Hiring Incremental Learners

Despite not having this particular vocabulary back in the days, we ended up only hiring incremental learners. And I must say that I don’t believe this was a lucky strike. Our hiring process is designed around the idea of making sure that the people that we evaluate have the chance to learn something along the process and prove that they have a deep interest in learning from others, being those others their future team members or respected individuals in their craft. It’s also important to see how people react when we give them a challenge. Especially when the situation puts them in check. Do they deconstruct the problem and incrementally try to solve it, asking for help when they block or searching for knowledge somewhere? Do they panic and say that seems impossible? More importantly, what they bring from a situation like this? If facing a new challenge, this time a more accessible one, they perform well, which can be a good sign that the person keeps his motivation high.

In our industry, we tend to be perpetual newbies. There are always new things to learn around the block. Maintaining a culture of incremental learning is a continuous challenge, our success depends on this. Like Josh Waitzkin mentioned in his best-selling book:

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity.

If you liked this topic and had something to add, please comment bellow or shoot me an email. I’m always available to discuss new techniques or talk about the ones that we use at Subvisual. Also, João Ferreira, wrote a previous blog post where he explains how Designers can improve their chances of success.

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About Roberto Machado

Breathes technology and deeply believes, hence the creation of Subvisual, that it is the medium for a better future. Always has 5 min to listen to you.
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