“Think about your intelligence, talents, and personality. Are they just fixed, or can you develop them?” – Carol Dweck
Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success in 2006 after decades of research into achievement and success. In recent years, she has revisited the topic to add greater understanding to her original findings after noticing a “false growth mindset” trend. So, what has changed since 2006, and what does a true growth mindset look like?
Fixed versus Growth
In Carol Dweck’s original research, mindset could be split into two main categories which she described as the following…
Fixed Mindset: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.”
Growth Mindset: “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
However, in an article written for Education Week in 2015, Carol pointed out that while having a growth mindset had become “the right way” to think and many educators were claiming to have adopted a growth mindset, their actions were not matching up to their words.
“The path to a growth mindset is a journey, not a proclamation.” – Carol Dweck
She observed that many teachers (and parents) were using the term “growth mindset” in relation to their teaching approach but they were not following through in their actions or their attitude. Mistakes made by students were still “problems” that needed to be rectified and avoided rather than helpful stepping-stones that could lead to greater learning and understanding, thereby developing a fixed mindset in those students. She wrote: “In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail – or if you’re not the best – it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful.”
The same need to match behaviours to words exists in the workplace. In an article written for Harvard Business Review, Dr Dweck pointed out that companies or organisations “playing the talent game” make it difficult for employees to truly adopt a growth mindset in their thinking and behaviour.
“Mission statements are wonderful things. You can’t argue with lofty values like growth, empowerment, or innovation. But what do they mean to employees if the company doesn’t implement policies that make them real and attainable? They just amount to lip service.” – Carol Dweck
Operating in a true growth mindset, a company will encourage appropriate risk-taking, accepting that not all risks will pay off, and reward employees for useful lessons learned, even when original targets are not achieved. Crucially, promoting a true growth mindset across the workplace generates true collaboration rather than competition on every level, making it possible to share information, seek feedback, admit errors, and capitalise on setbacks to move forwards. With this thinking and behaviour in place, a company can be truly innovative, and the doors to greater achievement and success remain open.
Since publishing her research in 2006, Carol has now revised her original findings to make it clear that a “pure growth mindset doesn’t exist.” She believes it’s important to acknowledge that both a fixed and a growth mindset exist in all of us and the key to developing a growth mindset is to accept that the fixed mindset will always be there to a certain extent. In fact, it’s the mistaken belief that it’s possible or necessary to shift completely from fixed to growth that has led to the false growth mindset trend. She says, “If we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed mindset thoughts and deeds. If we watch carefully for our fixed mindset triggers, we can begin the true journey to a growth mindset.”
Maybe you haven’t found an earth shattering miracle cure today, but what have you learned?
Don MacNaughton is a High-Performance Coach, Mentor and Key Note Speaker.
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