Guide to Growth Mindset

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What it means

Talented people are just “born with it,” right? Nope! In fact, most of the time, successful people have developed what’s known as a “growth mindset” to bring them closer to their goals. Coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, the term “growth mindset” refers to the extent to which an individual considers their talents and abilities to be malleable versus fixed (Dweck, 2009). It is apparent in how much we desire to learn and grow. Learning to cultivate a growth mindset means believing that you can improve your abilities (and increase your intelligence) through dedication and hard work. In contrast, a “fixed mindset” is characterized by the by the belief that a person’s talents and abilities are immovable (and are, therefore, unchangeable).

Companies can also adopt a growth mindset, where they believe that the talents of their people aren't fixed and therefore create ample opportunities for their people to develop their skills. A person or a company with a growth mindset has a desire to learn and is ready to put in the work required to attain their objectives. Having a growth mindset or a fixed mindset is not innate. As an individual or as an organization, we can take specific actions to develop the mindset we desire.

Why it matters

It's a key component of success. Intellect and talent are important for success, but there’s more to it than that. People with a growth mindset have a passion for learning and a firm belief that what they are capable of today is only a foundation for what they'll be capable of tomorrow. Someone with a growth mindset doesn’t get defensive about failure and start making excuses. They take responsibility for their actions, respond to feedback, and learn from their mistakes. This mindset gives us grit (Dweck, 1999, 2007, 2010; Duckworth, 2007), another key to success, at work, and in life.

It increases job satisfaction. A culture of growth empowers employees to go beyond their perceived limitations within a supportive framework. Moreover, companies with a growth mindset culture provide an environment of trust and ownership to teams, which supports job satisfaction.

It enables innovative and risk-taking teams. When you have a growth mindset, you aren’t obsessed with perfection. Instead, you embrace the growing process and thrive by figuring things out, even if it means making mistakes along the way. In her research, Carol Dweck highlighted that companies that championed a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset saw higher levels of innovative thinking and risk-taking in their employees and teams.

Beliefs that show it’s a strength

  • I believe that talents and skills can be developed through hard work and commitment.
  • We shouldn’t hire based only on past experiences; we should hire potential.
  • I understand that people who reach greatness do so by dedicating considerable time and effort to their achievement.
  • I believe that my full potential is unknown.

Beliefs that show it’s a growth area

  • I did a bad job this time around so I’ll never be able to do a good job.
  • I wasn’t born with this skill so why bother, I should focus on my natural talents instead.
  • All I need to do is believe in myself, and good things will happen to me.
  • I don’t really believe people can change, so I don’t focus on supporting my team members’ growth.

Tips to maximize it

Know that a growth mindset is something you can cultivate.

If you think that you don't have a growth mindset, think again. Mindset is not set in stone; it can be reframed and reprogrammed with time and practice. Start with small actions, like signing up for a class that always intimidated you to take yourself out of your comfort zone. Or, you can proactively ask for your manager's feedback on a project or task.

Shift your perspective.

Are you engaging in a lot of negative self-talk? Replace it with a new, growth-oriented narrative. See negative feedback and challenging projects as opportunities to grow. For example, if your manager gives you negative feedback, can you take this as a source of information and guidance to help you overcome challenges you may be facing on that specific project or task? You can, perhaps, use this as an opportunity to ask for training on a particular skill you need to develop.

Incorporate growth into the hiring process.

While fixed-mindset organizations tend to focus on an applicant's credentials and experience, growth-mindset organizations focus on spotting potential. "Focusing on pedigree…is not as effective as looking for people who love challenges, who want to grow, and who want to collaborate" (Dweck). A workforce that is ready to embrace challenges and willing to grow will equip your team and your organization for future challenges.

Be careful to not over apply a growth mindset intervention.

Several studies show that when a growth mindset is encouraged in an interventionist mode—through motivational messages, for example—it becomes counterproductive. Creating a culture of growth within a team or organization comes through subtle actions: defining and communicating clearly about the skills people are expected to develop, offering experiences for employees to learn and grow, and giving feedback on the effort provided.

Activities to try

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The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development.
- Carol Dweck
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BetterUp Studios creates and curates research-backed content, activities, and tools to help people everywhere pursue their lives with greater clarity, purpose, and passion.

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