Do You Have a "Growth Mindset"? Are You Fostering Growth in Others?
WHY do some people reach their creative potential in business while other equally talented peers don’t?
After three decades of painstaking research, the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck believes that the answer to the puzzle lies in how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they’re ever going to have approach life with what she calls a “fixed mind-set.” Those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, however, live with a “growth mind-set.” . . .
“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”
This is one of those unexamined assumptions about ourselves and life that people make without realizing the consequences. How many of us believe that we're stuck with what we were born with? How many of us work in organizations that treat us as though our talents are fixed?
Dweck's research has found that people with a growth mind-set are more creative and are more resilient and able to adapt to change. Brain imaging suggests that this may be because growth mindset people may pay more attention to corrective information than those with a fixed mindset. Interestingly, in this same study, growth mindset people who got a wrong answer were more interested in finding out the right answer, while people with a fixed mindset were more concerned about their own internal response to getting the answer wrong. Because of their emotional discomfort with being wrong or making mistakes, people with a fixed mindset actually avoid opportunities for improvement because it forces them into situations that challenge the very core of who they are.
Organizations that nurture a growth mindset do better, too. They're able to make course corrections because they are willing to concede mistakes. Managers in these organizations are more likely to see when employees improve and they are more likely to create an environment of coaching and feedback that will support that ongoing development.
Dweck points out the impact of organizations that don't have a growth mindset:
When bosses become controlling and abusive, they put everyone into a fixed mindset. This means that instead of learning, growing, and moving the company forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged. It starts with the bosses’ worry about being judged, but it winds up being everybody’s fear about being judged. It’s hard for courage and innovation to survive a company-wide fixed mindset.
Not surprisingly, Dweck has found that it's possible for people to change into a growth mind-set, but that it's a difficult process, requiring them to fundamentally challenge and change some core beliefs about themselves. She suggests four steps for moving into a growth mindset:
- Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice.
- Recognize that you have a choice to change that mindset
- Challenge your fixed mindset with a growth mindset voice
- Take growth mindset action
For managers, the focus should be on modeling growth mindset behavior and on providing feedback that focuses on how to fix problems, rather than on labeling employees. In addition, goal-setting should focus on growth and learning, not on "innate" talent.
For more on the growth mindset, check out these resources:
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Dweck's book). And here are some discussion questions.
- Diagram of the fixed vs. growth mindset (PDF), created by Nigel Holmes. And here's a good breakdown of the diagram with discussion.
- The Perils and Promises of Praise (applies to working with employees, too)
What do you think? Do you have a growth or a fixed mindset? How do you think you support people in developing their own growth mindsets?
This is one of the richest pieces yet! Thanks so much.
Posted by: Betsy Hansel | July 07, 2008 at 10:22 AM
This really builds on your previous post about risk taking. The point about a fixed mindset causing people to fear mistakes is key. For me formulating ambitious goals and taking risks is essential to developing a growth mindset.
Posted by: Avi Kaplan | July 07, 2008 at 10:43 AM
I love it when a great post like this is just timely in life. Thanks.
Posted by: Executed Today | July 07, 2008 at 11:11 AM
Thanks for sharing this Michele. Great video, and great post. It's a really important set of ideas. It's important to believe this about ourselves, and also about others. Because I think that people with the fixed mindset also judge the capacities in others in ways that can limit their growth as well (if those with a fixed mindset are in supervisory or teaching positions).
Posted by: Michelle Murrain | July 07, 2008 at 09:33 PM
Avi, I think you're right about this connection to making mistakes and risk-taking. I actually almost linked to that post in this one because I do think there's a connection.
Michelle, I agree that people in supervisory positions with a fixed mindset can do a lot of damage, limiting the growth potential in other people. It's so insidious too--it's one of those ways of thinking that isn't obvious to a lot of people, which is part of what allows it to continue to exist. I think that seeing and challenging those thoughts may be the hardest issue in combating the problem.
Posted by: Michele Martin | July 08, 2008 at 06:49 AM
I came across some of Dweck's work last year when I was reading another book. At the time, I felt that she had identified the key to successful teaching and learning. I feel the same way now and am eager to read her book.
I wish I could say that I have a pure "growth mindset", but I know that I am plagued by a fixed mindset in several areas. I think most of us are probably motivated by a complicated mix of learning and performance goals.
One goal that I have is to foster a growth mindset in the people around me, especially children, but accomplishing this goal will require me to overcome my remaining "fixed" ideas.
Posted by: Kimberly McCollum | July 08, 2008 at 02:47 PM
I hear you, Kim, on first needing to address our own "fixed" mindset--it's such a subconscious part of our thinking sometimes that it can be hard to see when we may be giving in to it.
Posted by: Michele Martin | July 09, 2008 at 06:24 AM
Thanks for the link.
Posted by: Michael G.R. | July 09, 2008 at 11:25 AM
It would be interesting to know, if the growth mindset is either present or not, or if you can do something to enhance it.
Personally, I believe that self-improvement can be enhanced by increasing the percentage of time spent on self-improving, based on the idea that you cannot "relax" yourself to be more self-improving, later.
Posted by: Lars D | July 10, 2008 at 09:23 AM
I find that you can be both fixed mindset and growth mindset in areas that are liked or from childhood. i hope as a mother, constantly encouraging and praising has helped my children, that does seem to be the case. i would like now to work on me which seems the hardest, listening to our own words of wisdom, im looking forward to reading carol dweck's book to learn more
Posted by: lyn | September 10, 2008 at 07:42 AM