Over 30 years ago, psychologist Carol Dweck came up with a revolutionary approach to educational theory. In it she observed that some children don’t just cope with failure, they relish it – seizing the opportunity to learn, grow and adapt from the experience.
Known as the “growth mindset”, it’s now a widely held philosophy that this ability to adapt and recognise opportunity applies to far more than education, with very real implications for entrepreneurs and business in general.
Here’s an insight into how business benefits from the growth mindset.
Two schools of thought
Although initially focused on the arena of learning, Dr Dweck’s research observed that when it came to inherent talent and intelligence, there were generally two types of mindsets at play:
A fixed mindset – Which saw people believe talent was something they either had or lacked, which could not be changed; and,
A growth mindset – Which saw people believe talent was something that could be acquired and honed through challenge, learning, and developing new skills.
In the Harvard Business Review, Dr Dweck goes into clarify: A growth mindset sees individuals believe their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others, while a fixed mindset sees people believe their talents are innate gifts.
She argues those with a growth mindset tend to achieve more than those with a fixed mindset “because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning”.
Dweck further notes there is no such thing as a pure growth or fixed mindset, individuals tend to have a mix of both. But when you can foster a growth mindset by recognising the triggers that inhibit growth, you have a better chance of prolonged success.
“When we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth…To remain in a growth zone, we must identify and work with these triggers.”
The wider implications of the growth mindset
Dr Dweck’s theory has gone on to have wide-ranging implications. A further Harvard Business Review article reflects: “Her book Mindset, published in 2006, has sold more than 800,000 copies, and the concept of a growth mindset has come to permeate fields such as education and sports training”.
“Now Dweck is extending her work on mindset beyond individuals—and the extension has important implications for managers. Can an organisation, like an individual, have a fixed or a growth mindset? If so, what are the effects on the organisation and its employees?”
Growth versus fixed mindset in business
In business a growth mindset can play out across a host of arenas. It can encompass an organisation’s vision and general outlook, it can reflect their approach to staffing and it can be inherent in the way a business owner or CEO leads the enterprise.
In general, a growth mindset sees business
- Understand threats but embrace opportunity
- Look to the next phase
- Learn from business mistakes
- Provide the opportunity to make mistakes, learn and grow from them
- Foster a culture of learning in leaders and staff
- Welcome challenge
- Look to innovate
- Have a clear vision of where they wish to be
Conversely a fixed mindset sees business:
- Looking to the past
- Fearing competition
- Blinkered in embracing change or opportunity
- Seeking out only highly talented individuals
- Giving up easily or being paralysed by a set-back or defeat
The benefits of a growth mindset
The growth mindset has become a philosophy that many businesses now seek to espouse, with proponents including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple and more.
These organisations tend to foster talent within their ranks, allow staff to experiment and encourage learning from mistakes. They have a clear vision of where they wish to be, but are innovative and adaptable in how they get there. Big, and at times seemingly impossible, dreams are encouraged, as is collaboration.
What’s more, research finds these are often more harmonious and appealing workplaces where a thriving culture engenders group problem solving, passion and innovation.
“…employees at companies with a fixed mindset often said that just a small handful of “star” workers were highly valued,” Harvard Business Review states .
“The employees who reported this were less committed than employees at growth-mindset companies and didn’t think the company had their back. They worried about failing and so pursued fewer innovative projects. They regularly kept secrets, cut corners, and cheated to try to get ahead.”
Elsewhere, Dweck outlines the main attributes that create a growth-mindset environment:
- Presenting skills as learnable
- Conveying that the organisation values learning and perseverance, not just ready-made genius or talent
- Giving feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success
- Presenting managers as resources for learning.
Tools to foster a growth mindset
Vision and Mission
A Business vision and mission are a great starting point for embracing the growth mindset. When you clearly document what your company is about you not tell you staff and customers what you stand for, you have the mechanism to measure opportunity and say yes or no.
This vision and mission should always be viewed as far more than words. They mean little if they’re just pretty sentences on paper without the business philosophy and practice to back them up.
Dr Dweck clearly notes a growth mindset is not about relentless positivity but about finding opportunity in challenge.
In business, it involves understanding the current marketplace and the present strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats.
It sees a business examining trends, areas of disruption and predicting future outcomes, while looking at the areas of challenge and opportunity these will present.
Then it’s about putting these observations into practice by acquiring the necessary skills, staff resources or infrastructure to meet the challenge and use it to a business advantage.
A culture of learning
One of the most effective ways that business can foster a growth mindset is to actively seek and encourage it in their staff. It’s a tactic employed by a major business well-schooled at rapid growth – Facebook.
At Facebook, employees are given 50-50 goals.
“These are so ambitious that there’s an equal chance people will or won’t achieve them,” Facebook executives explain.
“Those who do meet them want—and deserve—to know who they are. So do those who fall short of their goals. We aim for clarity at both ends of the spectrum. Classic research suggests that people are often highly motivated when success is a coin toss. With lower odds they’re more prone to give up, and with higher odds they don’t marshal enough effort or creativity.”
Innovation is a key attribute and result of business embracing the growth mindset. By fostering an environment where fear of failure is removed, staff have the opportunity to collaborate think outside the square, dream big and shoot for the stars.
At Microsoft, their successful HoloLens project started life as a “moonshot goal” with significant risk of failure.
“Team members had to welcome that risk and the chance to learn as they joined a cause ‘to put technology on a more human path’,” Harvard Business Review notes.
“The gamble paid off, and Microsoft responded with recognition and rewards for learning quickly through faster trial and error. And in the process, people who had a clear sense of purpose and an appetite for risk emerged as incredible leaders.”
As the growth mindset removes competition between staff, recognising effort rather than just focusing on results, it encourages a collaborative atmosphere. Staff become more willing and enthusiastic to share their skills, seek help when required and learn from the more knowledgeable in the group.
This in turn allows for creative group thinking and problem solving, where “issues” are seen as challenges that can be readily overcome.
The final word
The growth mindset can be an incredibly powerful business tool for business to foster talent, create innovation and reap real results.
It not only creates a nurturing environment where staff are encouraged to innovate and learn through trial and error, but allows a business to set and achieve big goals.
The growth mindset is a process, not a destination, but used effectively it furnishes business and operators with the tools and insight to embrace change, seize opportunity, and ultimately thrive.
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