Have you ever worked with someone who believed they were better than others, shifted the blame when things went wrong and would not listen to other people’s ideas? If so, you have worked with someone with a ‘fixed mindset’. On the other hand, have you ever worked with someone who was open to hearing other people’s ideas, saw mistakes as learning opportunities, worked hard, focused on teamwork, and could cope with setbacks and keep going until they succeeded? If so, you have worked with someone who has a ‘growth mindset’.
Dr Carol Dweck researches the difference between fixed and growth mindsets and the impacts they have upon life and success. She has found that a growth mindset helps you to become a lifelong learner able to adopt new skills as needed and to thrive in even the most challenging times of your life and your career. If you adopt a fixed mindset, you will spend your life and career avoiding challenges and giving up when things get hard.
These mindsets relate to our personal lives, too. Ever dated someone who expected you to be perfectly compatible with them, to give them total uncritical acceptance and to be a mind reader? If so, they had a fixed mindset and probably got upset if you disagreed with them or sought constant reassurance that you still loved them. If your partner has a growth mindset, on the other hand, they understand we are all flawed and can have a good relationship regardless, know the value of communication and are supportive of your growth and learning.
Given what you have read so far, do you believe you have a fixed or a growth mindset or do you change depending on the situation? The answer is usually a mix of both. You might have a growth mindset when your manager gives you feedback at work and a fixed mindset when your partner gives you feedback on how to stack the dishwasher at home.
We all start out with a growth mindset. Babies and toddlers try and fail again and again. They keep going until they master skills such as talking and walking without being self-conscious or frightened of failure. This changes around the age of four when we get a sense of self. One of the things that moves you to one mindset or the other is the way you are praised. If you are praised for your natural talent and ability, you will move towards a fixed mindset. If you are praised for the effort you put in, your attitude, or the way you approached a task, you will move towards a growth mindset. The same thing happens in the workforce. If you praise the way someone went about completing a task, they will want to replicate that same effort on the next task and will have a growth mindset towards it. If you praise a report for being 100% perfect, the team member will want to replicate that perfection and will move towards a fixed mindset. Time will be wasted perfecting tasks that could have been spent completing others.
Organisations can have a fixed or a growth mindset, which usually flows from its leader. A leader with a fixed mindset takes credit for other people’s work, won’t admit mistakes, will be surrounded by leader pleasers, lax ethics and no-one owning mistakes when they occur. It will be each person for themselves to prove how good they are and if you disagree with the leader you will be made to believe it is ‘because you are just not bright enough to get it’. A leader with a growth mindset can admit when they are wrong and believe in growing their teams and asking for feedback, ideas and help.
How do you encourage a growth mindset in your workplace so that everyone can thrive? You can do these things:
- Present skills as learnable (rather than just for those with talent)
- Value learning and perseverance over genius
- Give feedback about effort and improvement (not perfect outcomes)
- Ensure managers are available to others as a learning resource (the ability and willingness to ask for help when it is needed is a sign of a growth mindset)
How can you have a growth mindset more often in your own life? Start monitoring what is going on during your working day. When things happen, instead of judging yourself, ask yourself questions such as, ‘What can I learn from this?’, ‘How can I improve?’ or ‘How can I help my manager or team do better?’
A fun way recommended by therapists is to give your fixed mindset a name. Mine is ‘Boris’ and when the fixed mindset makes a mistake, you have a conversation with it. Remind your mindset that you are changing from a judge and be judged framework to a learn and help learn framework.
A growth mindset can make a remarkable difference to your day and your workplace.
Petris Lapis has worked in accounting, law, academia, banking, business and training. She has consulted to government and industry and published several books and hundreds of papers.