Skip to main content

Growth Mindset

What is this? Why do we need it and how does it help us?

What is this?

There are many different definitions of ‘mindset,’ but I am going to use this one:

‘a mental attitude, or way of viewing the world that predetermines your response to situations’

This is my definition, created from my research and experiences of what mindset ‘looks’ like. My definition hints that our mindset can often predetermine how we are going to react to a situation before it has happened, and before any facts are known. Mindset can be shaped by a number of different factors that can include:

  • Experiences
  • Culture
  • Upbringing
  • Values
  • Education
  • Bias/prejudices

These factors help us to create a view or a ‘lens’ through which we see the world.

Growth vs Fixed

A lot of the primary research in this area was conducted by Dr Carol Dweck and her colleagues. Dr Dweck is an American psychologist, researcher, and professor at Stanford University. Her work is extensive and explores the impact that mindset can have on our success. She also explores the fundamental differences between growth mindset and fixed mindset.

With a fixed mindset…

  • You may often feel you are being judged and feel you need to constantly prove yourself – may also resort to cheating (Blackwell et al, 2007) or cutting corners (Murphy et al, 2016) to achieve ‘success’
  • You may be highly resistant to change
  • May avoid challenges through fear of failure or criticism
  • Mistakes are attributed to personality (I’m just no good at this)
  • Can quite often blame others for shortcomings and become defensive (Hong et al, 1999)

With a growth mindset…

  • You are often comfortable with imperfection and see it as a way to learn and improve
  • You welcome constructive feedback
  • Motivation can be enhanced as you believe you can improve your ability through increased effort (Murphy & Dweck, 2016)
  • Failures are seen as part of the learning process
  • You are more willing to make mistakes a appear foolish in order to achieve the goal of learning (Blackwell Trzesniewski & Dweck, 2007)

Growth Mindset in the last couple of years (2020/2021)

There has long been scepticism around the theory of growth mindset, with most critics pointing to a lack of measurable results. In 2021, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published some new supporting evidence, found from incorporating a growth mindset element in the latest iteration of their long-running Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study which is designed to measure and compare performance of 15-year-old and is seen as a comparison tool for education systems.

As well as answering questions on reading, science and math, students were also asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement,

‘Your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much.’

Those who disagreed with the statement were seen as having a stronger growth mindset than those who agreed. Student responses were then cross-referenced to their test scores, to reveal a positive correlation between growth mindset and academic performance.

How can this impact us in business?

Research undertaken by Harvard Business Review reports that employees who work at ‘growth mindset’ organisations are 34% more likely to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company, 49% more likely to say that the company fosters innovation, and 65% more likely to say that the company supports risk taking, amongst other benefits.

If we look back to some of the bullet points made above about a growth mindset, a company that fosters this could benefit in the following areas:

  • Onboarding new team members
  • Team members leaving (learning form exit interviews)
  • Changes in procedures or processes – opportunities to learn new ways
  • Challenging projects requiring a quick adaption

How can this impact our teams?

Challenges that the team face together are often their biggest catalyst for growth. A study by Harvard Business Review reported,

“As teams are forced to take on new challenges, face new uncertainties, and recover from mistakes in the Covid-19 era, they begin to internalize that both their own abilities and those of their peers are not fixed, but rather can be developed”

However, to enable teams to be able to do this, there has to be a culture which fosters psychological safety and encourages growth through speaking up, recognising mistakes and how we can learn from them, and feeling supported in this journey…

Growth Mindset for Leaders

I have often said that it is the leader who sets the tone. Who creates the culture and role models behaviours for their teams…so how do they do this?

  • A leader with a growth mindset sees opportunities for their team, even during times of crisis. They don’t interpret situations as failures and look for someone to blame, causing a culture of fear and toxicity, but instead create the conditions for development of the team (as a collective and individuals) to accelerate their growth and learning for the next challenge that comes up.
    • How? Get to know your team. Speak to them individually, as a group and in both formal and informal settings. Make a note of what matters to them and then consider how you can help them achieve their aims and develop their talent. You’ll be surprised how much someone will grow if they have someone believing in them.
  • Entrepreneurs who grow their company will go through 4 stages of business growth – Start-up (1-5 employees), Grow-up (6-15 employees), Scale-up (16-250 employees) and then established and dominating the industry (250+ employees). Each of these stages will take a different set of skills, with a huge jump in stage 3. A number of start-ups fall at this stage. This is where having a growth mindset is critical to enable the leader to evolve their skills, ask for help, see effort as necessary and to learn quickly from mistakes.
  • Embrace change. Change is constant and by embracing change, leaders can use their growth mindset to look for the benefits and opportunities that the changes will bring. This buy in from the leader, and the narrative and change communications that then filter through to the teams will help ease the way for everyone else.
  • Become self-aware. What are your limits? Your preferences? How do you react under pressure? Self-awareness will help you identify areas of growth for self-development but also highlight how you are seen by others.
    • As a great starting point, I recommend Lumina Spark which is a personality psychometric that gives you a good starting point to create a development plan. It is questionnaire-based tool which is then analysed by a practitioner before they coach you through the findings and provide you with a full report that you can use for development. The beauty of Lumina Spark is that it uses 3 different personas – your underlying self (as I like to think of – you in your pyjamas at home), your everyday self (who you present to the world), and your overextended self (you in times of stress). From these, you can understand how different traits are dialled up or down, depending on the environment and also how this could be perceived by others.
    • If you are interested in using this tool for development of self-awareness, then please ask me more as I am a practitioner and use it regularly in both individual and team setting.
  • Focus on the journey as an ongoing project and practice perseverance. There are many times when you will not meet the expectations set for the end of the project. This may be due to a number of reasons, a lot of them out of your control! This is why it is important to focus on the journey there…the process of making the decisions, the communications, the team discussions…all of the things that make up that journey. This way you will grow yourself and your team in being able to make continual marginal improvements over time.
  • Flip your thinking. Be more conscious of how you speak to yourself when you are feeling challenged. Think ‘would I say it like this to my friend if they asked for advice?’ Learn to practice self-compassion – we are often far too hard on ourselves!
    • There’s a quote by Henry Ford (founder of the Ford Motor Company) that I love, and it sums up this point well, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”

Business reality check

We can often forget that everyone who has reached the top of their game has encountered failure, and not just once but a number of times. We often look at these people and use them in comparison to where we might currently be in our journey. I wanted to finish this piece with a bit of a reality check and some examples of people who you may know of and their journey to success!

Walt Disney – He opened his first film studio called Lugh-O-Gram in 1922. By 1923 he was in debt, facing bankruptcy and had to close it down. Undeterred, he then set up The Disney Brothers studio with his big brother and the rest is history!

Deborah Meaden of Dragon’s Den fame – She started out exporting glass and ceramics but was forced to walk away from her first company. She moved on to other pursuits and is now a multi-millionaire, able to invest in a whole host of start-ups.

Bill Gates – His first computer business was called Traf-O-Data. It failed, but he went on to apply his knowledge to a new start-up called Microsoft….and we know how that went!

Richard Branson – He left school at 16 after setting up a youth-culture magazine, used the profits to set up a record shop and then a recording studio, which eventually grew to Virgin Records. He has invested in many successful ventures but there have been some (such as Virgin Cola) which failed…he bounced back with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm. He keeps learning and evolving and perseveres.

I will leave you with his quote,

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

Finding opportunities through challenge and keeping an open mind to learning from different perspectives…I’ve always been a huge advocate of having a growth mindset – at times not easy – but always beneficial. I have created a space where we can bring our challenges together, to learn from each other and find solutions….a space where there is access to training and coaching, as well as guest experts and ongoing support, to help us flourish in our leadership roles…come and join us…The Wild Clarity Club.

The Wild Clarity Club

Leave a Reply