“I give up. I’ve never been good at science anyways. Besides, I’m just a tech.” Jill had a somber tone and a defeatist look as she stood over her bench work. I found it extra frustrating, because we spent so much time training her, and she always seemed to give up so easily whenever she was faced with anything challenging. I found that it wasn’t her skills that was preventing her from succeeding, it was something that we never thought to question her about when she first joined the lab.

There are three technical traits that we often overlook when recruiting candidates. These aren’t necessarily considered skill sets. They’re a set of beliefs. While skills can be taught, beliefs are often intrinsic. Carol Dweck, Stanford Psychologist and NY Times bestseller, refers to these beliefs as mindsets.

These mindsets are important when developing a team that can help create a unified vision. These are traits that we should search for when we look for candidates. These candidates need to possess the basis of these belief systems, which is built on an individual’s core mindset.

So when I am consulting with a principal investigator and we are looking at new teams, we look for three particular mindsets. We find that these are the core ingredients which can determine a successful research team.

  1. Self Belief
  2. People Belief
  3. World Belief

Self Belief

How candidates see themselves can determine their potential for productive growth. Look for people who are willing to learn and possess a growth mindset. This growth mindset states that an individual has the willingness to learn and sees challenges as a way of getting better, rather than assuming challenges are part of his/her inherent limitations.

It becomes difficult to teach and train fixed mindset candidates. They can believe that their skills are inherent, or are they’re born with them. These types of mindsets are belief systems that cannot be changed extrinsically through punishment or rewards. It has to come from within. However, it can be cultivated, if you know what to listen for.

Types of language to listen for:

  • Fixed: I’ve always been good at systems analysis.
  • Growth: I’m sure I can learn more about systems analysis.
  • Fixed: I can’t do regressions analysis. I’ve never been able to.
  • Growth: I can’t do regression analysis now, but I’m sure I can with a little training.

People Belief

Team building is really important in creating a culture that values and cultivates a nurturing environment. However it is that belief within that culture that can create a favorable environment. A growth mindset culture allows for dynamic interactions and novel ways of thinking to flourish.  If a candidate sees others as obstacles, or leverages for his (her) own self interests then that candidate will be an inhibitory force, and can often create a toxic culture. Therefore, I advise looking at a candidate’s ideology about people, and whether he perceives people as teammates. For example, if he only sees his P.I. as a boss, rather than a mentor or coach, he can end up holding this person up on a pedestal. This can create a culture of hierarchy, which can limit a candidate’s capability. Ultimately, these hierarchical cultures leads to limiting the team’s dynamic capabilities.

Types of language to listen for:

  • Fixed: Only the best scientific discoveries comes from labs at top Ivy League Schools, like ours.
  • Growth: Our lab continually strives to develop the best scientific research and discoveries.
  • Fixed: My colleagues are incapable of understanding my research and never will.
  • Growth: My colleagues don’t understand my research because they don’t have the background experience yet.

World belief

Ask whether a candidate believes she is a cog in the wheel. Or is she helping to move that wheel. If this person can see the world as a dynamic and interactive place, she understands that her actions can have an impact and vice versa.  Candidates that believe they can contribute toward a greater vision believe that their work can impact the world around them. She understands that the world is not fixed, but can grow and develop.  She can see her responsibility is to contribute to the world around her, rather than seeing a world which owes her. People who see the world as a fixed environment set their own personal and professional limitations.  These limiting world beliefs can become the roots for negative mindsets, like voter apathy, or limited innovation.

Types of language to listen for:

  • Fixed: Religious doctrines have no place in science.
  • Growth: Religious doctrines are searching for ways of cultivating scientific education.
  • Fixed: Nothing out of the pharmaceutical industry is trustworthy. This is why I’m in academia.
  • Growth: I’m hoping to take my skills in academia, to change the public perspective of the pharmaceutical industry.

Everything else can be taught as far as skills are concerned. However what cannot be taught is a core belief system, or a mindset. However, these mindsets can be cultivated if you can identify the desired traits early. These mindset cultures can take generations to change. In order to change generational core beliefs, it takes identifying and seeding positive seminole beliefs. Once these beliefs take root, they can create a culture of excitement for new discoveries. This culture can further a legacy of growth mindsets. Where others candidates see obstacles, the candidate you select will see opportunities.

Mindsets and beliefs play a big role in most successful teams. What type of beliefs do you look for in your teammates? Are you cultivating a growth mindset within yourself and in your team?

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