It was Stanford Professor Carol Dweck who in 2006 coined the term ‘Growth mindset’ in her book, Mindset. Whilst it may not have originally made waves, the term has grown in popularity across the last decade and become a staple of modern culture, both inside and outside the workplace.
Ambitious young entrepreneurs often credit themselves with having a “growth mindset” on their social media profiles, and the phrase has even crept into consumable media - appearing as a buzzword in reality TV shows like The Apprentice and also in the lyrics of popular hip-hop and pop songs.
There is one drawback though: The true definition of a growth mindset.
In today’s modern society, if someone claims to possess a growth mindset they are proclaiming that they are ambitious, an innovator and a risk-taker, always looking to adapt, evolve and change.
In reality, this varies dramatically from the definition and attributes that Carol Dweck herself identified all those years ago. So, in this blog, we’ll aim to define what a growth mindset really means, and how you can help steer both yourself and your workplace away from some modern-day misconceptions.
The true meaning of a Growth Mindset is the belief that a person's most basic abilities can be developed through dedication, hard work and practice.
They believe that their natural level of intelligence, as well as their talents, are just a starting point and that with time and dedication these can improve to a level that is not only the very best, but that can also surpass others’ pre-existing levels of talent.
Such a mindset then nurtures a hunger and a passion for learning and constant self-improvement, as well as resilience that is essential in order to achieve significant accomplishments.
To put that into perspective, real-world examples of those with growth mindsets could be both entrepreneur Bill Gates and the professional footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. Both men possessed natural intelligence and talent in their professions, but both men also dedicated their lives to learning and self-improvement in order to be leaders in their respective fields.
Read more about how to keep your resilience in a challenging environment here.
Steer Clear of these Misconceptions:
Now that we’ve established the true definition, it’s also important to look at how modern misconceptions of the term greatly limit those who truly possess a growth mindset.
In 2015, Carol Dweck re-established that there are three common misconceptions that are commonly touted and confused with the actual values of possessing a growth mindset. They are:
I already have it, and always have
This misconception is borne from people believing that part of having a growth mindset is the ability to remain flexible, optimistic and open-minded. Open-mindedness is important in the sense of remaining open to continuous learning and improvement, but for a person to believe they already possess the traits hinders their ability to truly remain open, and lacks the motivation or dedication required to self-improvement.
A growth mindset is about rewarding effort so that a person can “grow”
Most commonly found in schools and workplaces, this misconception confuses the definition and values of a growth mindset with nurturing positive reinforcement. Instead, to truly unlock the value of an employee with a growth mindset, a reward should be emphasised on their commitment to learning, self-development and progress, as well as effort.
Believe you have a growth mindset, and you have one
You wouldn’t just imagine your car was a Ferrari and expect it to transform into one, so why should this be the case for non-commital mission statements? Whilst it is a great initiative for a workplace to introduce a growth mindset to employees, the actual necessities required to nurture a growth culture are much more important. Policies should be implemented that make this real and achievable, such as set time dedicated to learning and collaboration on projects. Collaboration over competition ensures that employees remain dedicated to the growth of not just themselves but their employees, nurturing self-improvement as well as a stronger team culture.
How to Nurture a Growth Mindset Culture in your Workplace:
With all the above in mind, it’s time to think about how to adapt the true meaning of possessing a growth mindset - and the subsequent growth culture - into your workplace.
Commonly our workplaces tend to be full of triggers that can place us into a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is the opposite of a growth mindset, so it is the belief that our intelligence and talents are fixed and therefore do not need development or improvement.
This means that when we, or our employees, are challenged, face criticism, or compare ourselves against the success of others, we often put up defences and feel insecure. Both of these traits hinder growth.
To combat the fixed growth mindset the workplace can often be guilty of nurturing, employers can:
Leverage the power of Not Yet
In her book, Mindset, Dweck pointed to an example that occurred in a high school in Chicago. Instead of failing students that didn’t meet the grade, they replaced the terminology of “fail” with “Not Yet”. The result? Huge learning and development improvements from their previously lowest-performing students.
In the workplace, employees can be just as demoralised and dissuaded by the term “fail”, or “failure” and it’s all to do with psychology. Failure feels as if even trying would be hopeless, leaving employees feeling helpless, whilst not yet sets a person on a trajectory for success. It invokes feelings of determination to work that bit harder to achieve the end goal. This helps employees escape the fixed failure mindset and switch into one of growing and achieving.
Set Learning Goals instead of Performance Goals
More research by Carol Dweck revealed that the way a team sets its goals can have significant impacts on their mindset. Her research discovered that those with fixed mindsets were more likely to respond to performance goals as opposed to learning goals.
Although this may not sound inherently bad, it ties into the idea of there being a ceiling which is prevalent in a fixed mindset. A performance goal only challenges and measures a person's performance. It does not reward learning, nor encourage an employee to take on new challenges, learn from mistakes or harness improvement.
Goals that encourage employees to experiment and learn - whether the outcome is successful or not - nurture a growth mindset and transform an employees trajectory through the introduction of continued self-development, passion for learning and confidence to push further and be better.
Provide feedback that focuses on improvement
Praising your employees is essential, as this increases confidence, motivation and commitment to the business. However, too much praise risks cultivating a fixed mindset as employees will mistakenly fall into a self-fulfilling prophecy of believing their talent alone is good enough, and that they don’t need to improve themselves or their talents.
To strike the right balance, when providing feedback in employee one-to-ones or even on projects, praise the employee for the things they have accomplished and then provide constructive feedback on areas that you have identified as needing improvement. The improvement could be very minor, but highlight it nonetheless. Don’t discourage them - use encouraging terms, and just like in point one, leverage the power of “not yet”. “I think a little further research could really excel your work in this area”, for example.
Revisit, reassess and redo long-term goals
Deliberate practice is a systematic approach praised by award-winning chefs and even chess grandmasters. The technique requires you to revisit skills, but to bring with you a new challenging goal, or area of improvement.
This systematic approach promotes challenge and education in order to revitalise the skill and to continue to search for ways to improve. And it’s not just limited to skills: Use deliberate practice when assessing the business’s and your employees, long term goals. If you’ve hit an area of particular achievement: Great, but how can you go on to improve that? Challenge yourself and create a culture of striving to achieve the unthinkable through constant development, curiosity and learning.
If you’re wondering how, we wrote a blog on exactly how to test, accelerate and scale using the Bezo letters.
Ready to create a Growth Mindset in your workplace?
We at Growth Idea can help with that - after all, it’s in our name! We can provide your business with actionable goals and infrastructures that can help you to reach the next level, instead of staying on the same one. To find out more about what we do, and what we can do for you, book a free business strategy review with us today or request a complimentary call.