Four years ago we wrote about Growth Mindset, in our Management Thinkers series. We profiled the originator of the idea, Carol Dweck, and introduced the subject.
If there was any concern then that Growth Mindset may be little more than a fad, further research has only strengthened Dweck’s early conclusions. So, it seems timely to return to the topic.
While this article stands alone, I would recommend you to review the earlier article first. It’s good context. Because, to avoid repeating it, we’re going to use this article to look at how you can put the Big Idea of Growth Mindset to work in your workplace.
What is Growth Mindset?
But first, let’s do a simple introduction to the idea, in case you’ve not read the earlier article.
In short, we can contrast two mindsets:
- Fixed Mindset
- Growth Mindset
A fixed mindset is one that believes that, by a certain point (often early on) in life, our intelligence and other elements of our performance are fixed. We can’t change them. The talents we have are ours and nothing can supplant them. And, likewise, so are our limitations. We’re stuck with them.
For high performers, a fixed mindset leads to arrogance and a refusal to engage with constructive feedback: ‘that’s just the way I am’. For poor performers, it creates a cycle of despair: ‘I can’t get better, so I shan’t even try’. Poor performers with a fixed mindset either accept their lot in life and give up, or they accept their lot in life and rail pointlessly about the injustice of it.
Growth Mindset takes the opposite point of view. Nothing is fixed. Every talent can be developed, any shortcoming can be addressed.
Note that Dweck isn’t starry-eyed, believing we are all closet Einstein/Picasso/Austen/Mozarts. But what the Growth Mindset allows me to do is take what little or large amount of talent I have today, and hone it to a little more ability tomorrow. A lovely illustration of this is in a wonderful TED talk by British artist/speaker, Graham Shaw. I’ve been pointing loads of people to it (including my daughter): ‘Why People Believe they Can’t Draw’.
As a consequence, people with a Growth Mindset are liable to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, learn from feedback, and keep working until they get the results they want.
Growth Mindset in Education
Is it any wonder that enlightened educators have recognised the value of encouraging and developing a growth mindset in children? It’s far more important to long-term learning and educational success than this fact, or that process. Growth mindset has a positive impact on grades.
How to Put Growth Mindset to Work
One finding from the education world seems to me to carry across to the world of work, and your role as a manager and leader.
We often remind each other of the value of praise and recognition. But the findings from the school education sector are instructive. I have summarised them in a simple illustrative graph.
This is a gross simplification – but a fair one, I believe – of Dweck’s research findings. And I suspect that it will be as true for adults as it is for children. You can access the full paper by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck and see for yourself.
When we praise effort, commitment, or persistence, that’s what we encourage. But, if all we praise is a result or an existing capability, we encourage the mindset that the person is good enough or even excellent. There’s no motivation to improve.
The Two Primary Applications of Growth Mindset at Work
This highlights for me the first of two principal applications: in motivating your team members. Because mastery of a new task and feeling in control of our work are two of the most important workplace motivators. And praising attitude and perseverance feeds just the right behaviours to take control of work and get better at it.
And therefore, we also have the other main application: in personal, professional, and technical development. As a leader, an important part of your role is to develop your staff. We have covered a lot of aspects of this at Management Pocketblog. Most recently, Positive Mental Attitude, Mentoring, Coaching, and Inner Game. Encouraging a Growth Mindset is a powerful adjunct to all of these.
What is Your experience of Growth Mindset?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.