What does it mean to have a growth mindset? Psychologists and business leaders should be familiar with the term, likely having first heard it in Carol Dweck’s 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
In the book, Dweck synthesizes over a decade of research into failure, success, and effort, particularly how one’s mindset influences all three. As the book gained international prominence, the concept of a “growth mindset” began to influence teachers, coaches, and of course, business leaders.
However, while the concept continues to be influential, there are a few myths and misunderstandings that continue to circulate.
What is a growth mindset?
To understand how a growth mindset works, one also needs to understand how a fixed mindset works. Dweck defines the two in a 2012 interview:
“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.
“In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
Put more simply, people with a growth mindset believe in success through self-improvement and hard work.
Key benefits from a growth mindset
Think Tank Demos UK and social impact accelerator Big Change partnered to release Mind Over Matter, a report based on qualitative and quantitative research on growth mindsets. The report included several interesting findings:
Growth mindsets encourage superior learning habits. Much of the studies conducted on growth mindsets revolve around academic settings. One study involving over 300 students between the ages of 12-13 and 13-14 found that those with a growth mindset were, on average, more likely to improve their grades. Growth mindsets don’t just encourage effort, but successful strategies and learning habits.
Growth mindsets lead to positive mental wellbeing. Research suggested that growth mindsets also lead to positive development. Those praised for their intelligence tend to exhibit less perseverance and overall happiness than those praised for effort.
Growth mindset improves workplace and career skills. Dweck writes in Mindset that growth mindsets are linked to more productive management styles. A 2007 study also cited that growth mindsets had improved negotiation skills compared to their fixed mindset counterparts.
How to develop a growth mindset organization
Growth mindsets are clearly a better approach to learning, well-being, and self-development, so how can business leaders and entrepreneurs incorporate the principles into their own brand?
Add “not yet” to your vocabulary
Language is a powerful thing. Words can have a powerful effect on our behavior, even if they are said lightheartedly. In her talks, Dweck introduces the concept of “not yet.” The premise is simple- instead of saying “I can’t do it,” or “I’ll never get it right” or any variation of the sort, shift it to “not yet.” It’s a minor change with major influence on what the team can accomplish.
Reward risk and effort instead of results
Businesses tend to reward employees after hitting a certain sales mark or onboarding a new client and ignore all the work and strategy in between. Microsoft takes a different approach: they reward smart risks regardless of their success, as long as the projects yield some actionable insights. It’s the same kind of thinking that inevitably influenced the new HoloLens project. Be careful not to solely focus on effort, as process and strategy are equally important.
Prioritize people who can grow
GE CEO, Jack Welch, has become an iconic organizational leader for his management style, but also for his hiring philosophy. According to HBR, Welch prefers to hire military veterans and Big 10 graduates over Ivy Leaguers and spends “thousands of hours” training and selecting leaders. Those who embrace challenges and personal growth are likely to be happier and more productive than those fixed in their ways.
Source: Mindset Works
Promoting growth mindsets
It’s not enough to repeat growth mindset platitudes like “don’t give up!” or “practice makes perfect.” Nor is it enough to simply be open-minded and willing to change. Growth mindsets require constant reflection, discipline, and feedback.
Similarly, no one person is completely growth-oriented or fixed-oriented. In reality, everyone is a mixture of both, and tend to waver between the two depending on the area and practice. Only through experience and continual improvement can someone strive towards the benefits from a growth mindset.
Learn more about developing the skills to become a courageous leader.
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