If it’s fixed, break it: the advantages of having a growth mindset
Original illustration by Mark Winter
Developing a growth mindset is an emerging trend in learning and development. Although the concept is often applied in schools, it’s becoming increasingly popular in organisations too. And with good reason: having a growth mindset powerfully shapes your outlook and beliefs about your intelligence.
But it’s all too easy for concepts like these to become vaguely defined, woolly buzzwords that everyone talks about but no one really understands.
So, what does having a growth mindset look like in practice? Carol Dweck, the Stanford psychology professor who coined the term, explains that a growth mindset is simply the belief that intelligence can be developed.
But we are creatures of habit and, just as we follow the same daily routines, our minds often stick to the same well-trodden paths. We may believe that we aren’t talented because of previous experience or because of other people’s perceptions of us. And this can be hard to break away from, especially if we internalise certain beliefs when we’re young.
Developing a growth mindset involves walking a different route. It isn’t easy to change your outlook overnight, but anything that’s worth it takes effort and time. And it’s important to remember that we all have a mix of the two mindsets: like introversion and extroversion, fixed and growth mindsets are on a spectrum.
So, there will always be times when we feel deflated or downbeat. But learning to recognise the fixed-mindset triggers helps us to rewrite the narrative we tell ourselves, rather than slipping into a thought-spiral of negativity.
GROWTH VS. FIXED MINDSET – How to see things in a new way
“I can’t do this”
|“I can’t do this…yet”|
|“I’ve never been good at this, so what’s the point in trying?”||“With time and effort, I can improve my skills”|
|“If at first you don’t succeed, you probably don’t have the ability”||“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”|
|“Nothing ventured, nothing lost”||“Nothing lost, nothing gained”|
|“Proving myself is important and I have to look smart, so failure is impossible”||“It’s okay if I don’t get it right the first time. I can learn from my mistakes and move forward with more knowledge than before”|
Organisations who encourage their employees to develop a growth mindset help to motivate learning and continuous improvement, as well as greater empowerment and ownership over their work.
In organisations, fostering a culture of growth and development can take the shape of:
The best managers encourage their teams to take an active role in their development, setting challenging objectives and stretching their skills. A key part of this is helping employees to identify opportunities to learn.
And don’t forget that leaders and managers need coaching too. They may also be struggling with fixed mindset triggers and need guidance to help them encourage employees to work towards their potential.
Encouraging collaboration and innovation
If employees are stuck in a fixed mindset of ‘this is the way we’ve always done it, so this is the way we’ll always do it’, there’s no motivation to seek out new / better ways of doing things.
Actively encourage employees to work together and come up with ideas – and to make mistakes (within reason!). This will also lead to greater empowerment as employees feel they can make a difference in their work and their organisation.
Recognising / rewarding colleagues for good work, not just for good outcomes
Celebrating success feels good, but it’s equally important to recognise the steps it has taken to get there. Encouraging a growth mindset involves recognising colleagues who approach opportunities with an open mind and learn from challenges.