This blog was written by Microsoft Program Manager, Osborn Adu, as part of the Amplifying Black Voices blog series. Osborn walks us through how to apply a growth mindset to your work.
Growing up in Ghana, I was enthused about computers and technology but never owned one till I got to University. My primary school had only one computer, and even though my high school, St Augustine's College (some high schools are called colleges in Ghana) had a few more computers, they weren't enough for over 1,500 students. However, the lack of computers did not quell my interest but rather galvanized me to co-found a technology company and to pursue a career in tech.
This is me with classmates from high school. Circa 2004
I joined Microsoft after completing my MBA at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Joining an iconic company with such global impact and presence is a dream come true. I was so elated after I receiving my Microsoft offer that it was all I would talk about with my friends. I'm sure, it was quite annoying, but my dream for working at this iconic company with a big global impact was now realized.
It's now been over a year since I joined, and boy, it has been an experience. There've been highs and lows, good days and not so good days. However, my north star has been to apply a growth mindset to my job. After reading about the growth mindset from Satya Nadella's book "Hit Refresh", the concept resonated deeply with me. I had been applying those principles for most of my life without realizing it. See, I was very timid for most of my childhood, and after a moment of truth of not being able to speak to a girl I really liked at a party, I strived to leave my comfort zone. Since then, I have been on a path of self-improvement through exploring new interests and activities. According to Professor Dolly Chugh, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at New York University, "A growth mindset allows us to think of ourselves as a work-in-progress rather than premade good people, and to confront bias on both an individual and systemic level".
At Microsoft, my approach has been the same, I do not consider myself as a know-it-all but as a learn-it-all. Considering the vast amount of organizational, role-based information, and skills needed to excel in my role, a growth mindset is critical to the job.
Here are some ways I apply the principles:
- Challenging yourself and not fearing failure: At work, I don't shy away from nebulous and challenging tasks. Instead, I embrace and see them as an opportunity for me to learn. I do not worry about the outcome, but solely focus on the process that leads to the outcome. If the outcome is successful then there's a lot of positive aspects of the process that I can reuse. If not, I think through what I could have done differently and take note of it. Approaching life this way means every outcome is a win since I get to learn something new either ways.
- Consistently asking for feedback: I ask for feedback from everyone I work with. My manager, colleagues that I work with on a daily basis, and even those that I get to work with temporarily. I always want to hear others' opinion on how I can improve. However, asking for feedback is not enough. It's about how you process and learn from the feedback. There was a time a colleague mentioned that I should be speaking up a lot more, becasue she believed I had a lot of experience and ideas to contribute to the team. She was right. I was quite overwhelmed in the beginning; trying to process all that was happening around me was too much and I felt inadequate to speak up. However, not speaking up doesn't make the best professional impression. After hearing her feedback, I devised a plan to prepare well in advance of meetings and to create talking points I can refer to. I have significantly improved in speaking up and sharing my ideas with my teammates.
- Learning from everyone: I have made a point to speak to someone within the organization each week regardless of role or title. Doing the math, I'll roughly speak to 52 people each year and will learn about their careers, their challenges, their hacks, and their lives. Each week, I get to hear amazing stories and learn new things from colleagues and friends at Microsoft. There are so many amazing and wonderful people that work here and I am exceedingly proud to be part of the organization. Connecting and learning from others is something I relish. Anytime I find someone doing something interesting, I reach out to them and ask for time on their calendar to learn more about their work. This has expanded my network and also provided me with great insight into the organization.
- Always learning and reading: My team has a dedicated learning day each month, however, I also make sure to reserve at least 30 minutes each day to learn something new. Each day, I review a course of interest or read materials that can help me in my work. This daily habit has helped me a lot. I have augmented my knowledge on business, on Microsoft products, on working efficiently with others, on being productive, and many more. One of my favorite resources to learn new things is LinkedIn Learning. The amount of content on any business topic you can think of in LinkedIn Learn is mind-blowing. My goal is to take and learn as many courses as I can for free. Plus, I get to add all I learn to my LinkedIn profile, which is so cool.
- Becoming comfortable with ignorance: As the famous poet and author Maya Angelou once said, "Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.". Developing empathy, leaving your comfort zone, and asking questions to learn are some ways to deal with ignorance. There've been countless times that I have had no idea about a topic and scared to death to ask questions. However, I try to muster courage to ask about things I do not know. It can sometimes be uncomfortable, nevertheless, asking questions to learn is very important to having a growth mindset.
Coming from Ghana, I am genuinely happy and excited to be part of such an amazing organization. Through applying growth mindset principles, I am looking forward to contributing and driving impact globally with Microsoft.