Like most of you, I wear many hats during the day – parenting a high schooler, coaching nonprofit staffs and boards, blogger,and community volunteer – and a few months ago I began noticing that the phrase “growth mindset” was popping up in virtually all of my communities/circles. I then attended a retreat in April on “Being Brave” and got a crash course in “Growth Mindset.” I was hooked. I ordered Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success through the Amazon app, right from my chair in the retreat center.
If this is the first time you’ve heard the phrase “Growth Mindset,” allow me to give you a brief overview. You may find that you’ve been operating under Growth Mindset principles all along. People who have a Growth Mindset believe that success is generated by hard work, by practice, and by learning from mistakes. People with a “Fixed Mindset” believe that success is the result of talent alone. Those with a Fixed Mindset see failure not as an inevitable step toward success, but instead see failure as representing an institutional lack of talent, intelligence, or capability.
This rang so true for my own academic career. Early on I was told that I was bad in math, and that became my inner dialogue and my excuse for failure – and even worse, for not trying. “Why bother with these word problems, I’m bad at math.” On the other hand, I was also told that I was good at foreign languages, which gave me the confidence to try harder, to take risks, and to persevere. Guess what my major was. Hint: not math.
In a Fixed Mindset culture, talent is recruited and revered – and is the center of attention. Others around the “talented one” are there to carry out his or her wishes and demands. This is especially true on Wall Street where the “culture of genius” is perpetuated, and in sports, where the most talented earn the highest wages.
In a Growth Mindset culture, it is development, not talent alone, that is revered. Mistakes are opportunities for learning, with teams pouring over missteps to try to learn from them. There is tolerance and even reverence for the learning curve. Organizations operating under a Fixed Mindset have little to no tolerance for that curve. Mistakes are evidence of failure, and must be “accounted for” or even worse, hidden.
A quick Google search reveals that practically every business school in the country is studying and writing about the power of Growth Mindset. The evidence shows that companies who nurture this practice have greater trust among their teams, a greater sense of ownership, stronger commitment to the company, more support for the risk-taking that is necessary to achieve great progress (and, along with it, a significantly reduced level of unethical behavior). Growth Mindset is smart businesss – and it must come from the top down. Most of us would provide lip service to the idea of this practice, but the reality is that if you are part of a team that operates under a Fixed Mindset, you will need to make an intentional effort to embrace this “new” approach.
I love this approach because it can be applied to every area of your life – for every hat that you wear. Parents can use Growth Mindset at home by being transparent about their own mistakes and modeling persistence and resilience. It can be used in personal relationships. And if you lead a staff or a non-profit board, you can introduce this approach by following the path that Dweck lays out in her book. She encourages leaders to “root out” the Fixed Mindset and create channels for dialogue and consistent feedback. She cites examples of organizations that successfully transformed their approaches and created new cultures of teamwork.
I love the quotation from Jack Welch, who learned that “True self confidence is the courage to be open – to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.” General Electric went on to achieve amazing success under his leadership, honoring teamwork over individual genius.
SRD Communications can help your staff or board of directors change course and embrace a Growth Mindset. Let’s get started.
Jenny Cudahy is a principal at SRD Communications. You can reach Jenny by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.