Journalists should cultivate a growth mindset

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. – Eric Hoffer

There’s been a bit of chatter the past couple of weeks about a speech that Rob Curley gave recently. Curley talks about the difference between mindset and skill set. He also notes how frequently some of us run across recent j-school grads who are close minded about online.

Rather than pick on any one person’s response to these comments, I would rather fashion a general clarification.

To me, mindset is one of the most critical issues facing journalism today.

In his speech, Curley makes it clear what he means by skill set, but I think some people are still conflating mindset and skill set. Just because you know Flash, or can operate a video camera or hack a little PHP doesn’t mean, per se, that you have the right mind set.

A while back, Guy Kawasaki pointed me to this great article about mindset.

Essentially, there are two kinds of mindsets. There is the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

The fixed mindset might say something like, “I got into this business to be a writer, not a videographer.” The growth mindset might say, “Video? Cool! Let me give it a try.”

Or, the fixed mindset doesn’t believe newspapers are under an existential threat — rather it’s corporate greed, or getting away from “core values” that is causing industry woes, or some other force that can only be resisted by “keep doing what we’re doing.” The fixed mindset isn’t even willing to entertain the idea that maybe we must make some radical alterations to how we define journalism.

The fixed mindset says, “there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to put out this print paper and update online.” The growth mindset says, “what can I do differently to work more efficiently so I can focus on the web?”

The fixed mindset hates conversational media, especially blogs, and wonders why we’re wasting time on video.

A growth mindset is always willing to try new things and admit that maybe the way people interact with media now is fundamentally different.

But there is a deeper level of mindset that is related, but different.

Often, those of us who talk about people who “get it,” think we “get it” and expect people to understand what we mean by “get it.”

Sure, having a growth mindset is a prerequisite to getting it, but that only takes you so far.

Getting it means that not only do you understand that the way people interact with media is now fundamentally different; it also means you understand how people use media now.

If you get it, you see the trends.

  • You understand that blogging is the most successful online publishing tool because blogs are immediate, conversational and egalitarian.
  • You understand that online video is successful because it is immediate, conversational and egalitarian.
  • You understand that for younger people, being able to make connections with friends and family is essential to how they view the world.
  • You understand that technology is changing fast, and all the growth patterns point toward a media world that is even more distributed and conversational than what we have today.


  • You have used conversational media and have come to see it as a better way to report and share news, because it is more meaningful to the people who participate (to the fixed mindset, this will seem preposterous).
  • You participate yourself — you probably have a blog, but you certainly read several blogs; you’ve shot and uploaded some personal video; you’re on MySpace or Facebook (or at least LinkedIn);
  • You have several online-only friends (you’ve never met in person);
  • You’ve experienced watching a news story grow through the participation (submissions) of readers.
  • You’re not chained to pre-Web notions of definitive-voice journalism (“we know better than you what the news is — there’s no point in discussing it”); you understand you’re no longer in control of the news agenda.
  • You don’t make “quality” a religion and refuse to try new forms of reporting because it doesn’t immediately meet your quality standards. You are willing to try and fail, and keep trying until you get it right, and you don’t resent others doing the same.

There are many skills that the modern journalist needs — from being able to write a good story, to where to point the camera, to how to set up a blog, but I’ve interviewed people before who have web skills, but they still didn’t have a growth mindset.

We very much need more experienced journalists to expand their skill sets, but if they don’t also work on developing the growth mindset that goes keeping pace in a turbulent media world, then we’re still going to have a hard time succeeding.

5 thoughts on “Journalists should cultivate a growth mindset

  1. Bravo!
    That may be the best description I’ve seen of what we’re looking for in the next generation of journalists. It’s certainly one of the best descriptions I’ve seen of what’s wrong with much of the present crop.

  2. I think this could also be applied to J-School graduates. Too often these students emerge with unrealistic attitudes about the industry and earning potentials. Too often, rather then embracing technology, these grads are technophobes who don’t see value to open their minds to much of what you have so aptly described.

  3. NAILED IT!!! This is one of the most concise summaries of something so endemic in journalism (and indeed, many disiplines in the media business).

    I might add that two things are mandatory for jornalism and media companies to move forward in their critical community service (read First Amendment) endeavors: 1) A willingness to foster, reward and find people with the right mindset, no matter what age and 2) A wilingness to allow them to try (and fail) new models as we navigate change.

    Great posting, Howard….I’ll likely pass it around a couple of major newsrooms here….with interesting response, I’m sure. — Happy Thanksgiving!!

Leave a Reply