Having spent the past year studying the concept of ‘mindset’ (…and if I am honest it becoming somewhat of an obsession) I wanted to write a very brief blog on the concept of a ‘growth mindset’. I am convinced that our success both personally and organisationally will rely more and more on our individual and collective mindset.
We have an exciting future ahead of us with constant change and technological advancement, but our way of working will shift dramatically – new jobs will emerge and old ones disappear. We need to embrace this and embody the Darwinian concept of ‘it is not the strongest of a species that survives, but those most adaptable to change’. The mastery required by our clients today will not be that of tomorrow.
Carol Dweck (Professor of Psychology at Stanford University) developed the concept of a growth mindset and her initial studies started with children, who see failing as part of learning and entirely normal. These children had what she termed a ‘growth mindset’. Their focus was on learning and taking on new challenges. As her research developed over a number of years she identified a significant difference between ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets and how our tendency towards one or the other can have a significant impact on our ability to succeed.
In Carol’s research, a fixed mindset is characterised by the following traits:
- Avoiding challenges
- Ignoring feedback
- Believing intelligence is static
- Having a desire to look smart
- Being threatened by the success of others
- Believing that when you fail – you are a failure
She noticed that many talented people (generally believing that their talents or levels of intelligence are innate gifts) often develop a fixed mindset over time. Having fostered a self-image of being smart or talented, people will eventually avoid any activity that might challenge their self-view*. This can result in very able people plateauing and never reaching their full potential. Some will have relied on talent alone without hard work, which will only take them so far.
This is well summarised by the following statement:
‘Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard’
In contrast, those with a growth mindset, who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others), tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (they put more energy into learning and actively seek stretching tasks). The growth mindset traits are:
- Believing intelligence can be developed – leading to a strong desire to learn
- Embracing challenges
- Believing effort is the path to mastery
- Learning from criticism
- Finding inspiration from the success of others
- Reaching higher levels of development
- Believing that when you fail – you’re learning
Those with a growth mindset, struggling to take on difficult problem or challenge would not give up, believing that they did not have the skill to do it – ‘I can’t do this!’, but rather on ‘I can’t do this…..yet’. The ‘yet’ being an extremely important addition to the statement as they will continue to learn and work hard until they have mastered it.
Growth mindset in an organisational context
In an organisational context, the research suggests that when entire companies embrace a growth mindset their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organisational support for collaboration and innovation.
Companies with fixed mindset traits tend to exhibit some of the following characteristics:
- Focus on a handful of star performers – assuming that they are ‘naturals’ in business. These people are the key to beating the competition.
- A ‘talent worship’ culture forcing employees to feel the need to look and act talented thus forcing them into a fixed mindset. These people then do not correct deficiencies and the company becomes unable to self-correct. Companies who cannot self-correct will not survive in such a fast moving world.
- A poor culture where people are trying to gain advantage over others in the talent race.
- A controlling management culture which leads to everyone worrying about being judged – innovation and collaboration find it hard to survive due to fear.
- Tend to focus on job applicants past credentials and accomplishments rather than valuing their potential, capacity, passion to learn and willingness for hard work. Google have started making such a shift with more of a focus on finding people who are capable independent learners.
In general, research and early evidence suggests that organisations focused on employee’s capacity for growth will experience significant advantages.
The relevance to us
As stated earlier, our world and industries will change at a rapid rate. Our professionals will need to re-skill many times throughout their career and many of the jobs that our younger generations will move into do not even exist today. Our clients’ businesses and needs will adapt and the need for us to collaborate and innovate to solve their most challenging problems will only increase. Whilst we cannot predict exactly what will change, we can ensure that our businesses and people embrace a growth mindset. This will differentiate those firms in the market and create flexible businesses willing to tackle, embrace and thrive on the challenges of the future….after all they create a great learning opportunity.
- Dweck, C, ‘Mindset – how you can fulfil your true potential’
- Harvard Business Review – How Companies Can Profit from a “Growth Mindset”
- Dr Barry Hymer – lecture, Kent College, November 2017
*in one study, people were given the option of taking two tests. One was explained to them as quite simple and they should achieve a high score. The other test was difficult and no one should expect a high score. Those with a fixed mindset opted for the easy test. Getting a high score was more valuable in reinforcing their self-image of being smart than in the learning available from taking the hard test. Those with a growth mindset opted for the hard test as a pure opportunity to learn and grow.