Does your organization have a growth mindset? Cultivating growth mindsets—the belief that your talents can be improved upon with learning and effort—has become a popular goal for many workplaces as studies suggest it helps employees to feel more empowered and committed and are more likely to deliver on collaboration and innovation outcomes. But with all the buzz surrounding this practice, are we actually creating false growth mindsets?
“Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets,” explained Professor Carol Dweck, from Stanford University and author the best-selling book Mindset when I interviewed her recently. “A pure growth mindset doesn’t exist, which we have to acknowledge in order to attain the benefits we seek.”
It seems that we all have fixed mindset triggers that can cause us to fear that our talents are innate gifts which can't really be improved upon. In these moments, your fear of struggling or fear of failing to deliver the outcomes you feel are expected of you can cause you to shy away from new challenges, find negative feedback painful to hear and deny your mistakes.
“Fixed mindsets cause you to choreograph what you should or shouldn’t try, and what you should or shouldn’t show others,” explained Carol. “They create a fear of your deficiencies being unmasked and of people seeing you as an imposter.”
Carol has found that when organizations cultivate fixed mindsets, outcomes become paramount and doing anything we can to achieve the required result seems warranted. This can lead to a lot of unethical behavior including hoarding resources (even from our teammates), lying to our colleagues and clients, and blaming others when things don’t go right. But perhaps the biggest risk in these cultures is that we tend to ignore, avoid or abandon the potentially valuable learning opportunities that enable our growth and innovation.
In contrast, when we are in more of a growth mindset we believe that our talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, the use of resources and lots of great mentoring from others. We don’t necessarily believe that anyone can be Albert Einstein, but we do believe that we can improve upon where we are right now. As a result, you're more willing to take on new challenges, listen to negative feedback and own your mistakes because you see these as learning opportunities.
In fact, Carol’s research indicates that organizations with a more growth-mindset—where there’s a shared belief that everyone can develop their talent, encouragement for risk taking, and a real emphasis on learning and development from setbacks and failures—are also more creative and innovative.
But where might growth mindsets go wrong?
Carol suggests that while effort is important, unproductive effort is not, and outcomes still do matter. So ignoring outcomes and just rewarding effort, regardless if your hard work is getting results or not, isn’t good for you or your organization. So you still need to continuously check that the progress on projects is getting you to where you need to be, in a reasonable time, and that your investment in time and energy will pay off in the short or long term.
“So when organizations cultivate a growth mindset culture people are learning from their successes and their failures, and continuing to revise, upgrade, improve that process so that over time the outcomes are better and better,” says Carol. “And when you focus on this process, you become the creator of the future rather than a company that’s always rushing to play catch up.”
How do you develop a true growth mindset?
Carol shares five insights from her close work with Microsoft and other large organizations on how to create more authentic growth-mindsets.
What can you do to encourage more of a growth mindset in your organization?