Brain of plastic, so fantastic: the launch of AT Learning Leaps
When I was a little girl, I really thought I could make it to the Olympics. And lest you think that was based on my aptitude in sports, I was the kid that was usually picked last in kickball.
I guess I knew that I was growing and changing, so, regardless of my “skills” (or lack thereof), everything was still possible.
Related to this thought that everything is possible is the idea that when it comes to learning, aptitude matters less than passion and hard work.
And if you have any doubts about that, consider karaoke. As a former iO instructor of mine once said, the people who are best at karaoke may not have the best voices, but they get up there and commit, and belt out “Bohemian Rhapsody” like their lives depended on it.
Intelligent is what intelligent does
This phenomenon has also been proven in places other than dive bars. A number of years ago, after studying the behavior of thousands of children, Dr. Carol Dweck coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” to describe the underlying beliefs people have about their own intelligence and competence. When students believe that they can get smarter (growth mindset), they put in extra effort, and that leads to higher achievement. This is counter to the belief that intelligence is fixed or that certain people are good or bad at certain things (fixed mindset).
The fact that for most of us school “stops” at a certain age only reinforces this fixed mindset, making us feel as if our brains are fully developed at 22, and our talents, determined.
This phenomenon has since been backed by neuroscience. Recent advances show that with focus and practice, networks in the brain actually grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and speed transmission of impulses, suggesting our grey matter is far more malleable or “plastic” than we had thought.
60 days, 25 experiences
With articles and Ted Talks about “growth mindset” in our inbox, this past week, a cohort of 25 AT employees set out to step out of our comfort zones and begin expanding our minds by mapping out self-directed, 60-day “AT Learning Leaps” with Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom (Director of Programs) and Betsy Ramaccia (Strategist and Senior Facilitator) of the Experience Institute in Chicago.
What exactly is a “Learning Leap?” According to its developers, “A ‘Leap’ is a specific, time-bound project designed to help you leave your comfort zone and learn something new.” On Launch Night, with the help of a partner, we each designed our own personal Leaps using a “Leap Map,” a poster-sized, open-ended framework upon which we posted stickies to plot out our “journeys of risk and learning.”
Leaps from previous participants include learning a method for making Greek artisan jewelry, creating a virtual reality storyboard, and learning how to play guitar in time for a child’s birthday party.
Now that we folks at AT have launched and identified our own Leaps, next steps include weekly workshops focused on problem solving, prototyping, and storytelling. When the 60 days are over, AT Leapers will share their stories at an agency-wide event.
Live and let learn
The benefits of this experience to agency life are manifold. First, we work in an iterative industry. People need to keep growing and pushing out of their comfort zones to stay employed and, well, relevant.
My copywriting career has certainly seen a lot of shifts. At one of my first jobs in consumer advertising, I was asked how well I was at jingles and was given a rhyming dictionary. Years later, when I started working in pharma, I would trade in that rhyming dictionary for a medical dictionary. Now, I may need to consult anything from new FDA marketing guidelines to what’s trending on BuzzFeed.
Apart from teaching us to adapt to the changes in how advertising media is consumed, a growth mindset–based experience like Learning Leaps encourages us not to be too quick to set limits on the abilities of our coworkers and reports. Unsurprisingly, a culture that believes in growth and prevents employees from feeling prejudged or “stuck,” allows for more fluid, rewarding careers.
As for my shot at a rewarding Olympic career, deep down, I guess I still think I could make it if I really wanted to. But for now, I have a more pressing passion, one that I will realize in about a couple months.