Our ability to succeed and grow is determined by how adaptive we are, and our ability to learn. The good news? You can foster a Growth Mindset.
Have you ever wondered why some people can view failure as the end of the world while others see it as an exciting opportunity? Psychologists and neuroscientists have focused on this phenomenon over the last decade to better understand how we approach challenges in our personal and business lives.
The phenomenon has been defined as a ‘Growth Mindset’ by Stanford Psychologist Dr Carol Dweck and has been linked to higher levels of collaboration, resilience, motivation, performance and innovation. Since publishing her book, Mindset (1.6 million in print already), the term Growth Mindset has begun to appear in many major leadership frameworks and school curriculums, both locally and internationally.
In fact, Growth Mindset has become a core strategy at many global companies, including Microsoft, Google and NASA. It’s also been put forward as one of the key skills for the future world of work, as it’s believed to have a significant impact on the ability to handle change in our environments.
Some believe that in order to future-proof ourselves in the new world of work, driven by rapid change, the question we should be asking ourselves is no longer “what skillset do we need to have?” To ultimately determine both personal and business success we need to rather ask “what mindset do we need to have?”
Cultivating a Growth Mindset
A mindset is the unconscious way that we view our world. It’s the lens that influences the way that we make sense of, and interpret, information. This ultimately guides our decision- making and our behaviour.
Our lens is largely determined by our experiences and interaction with the world. A Growth Mindset is a lens by which you interpret the world based on a belief that you have about the ability to grow and learn. Specifically, it’s the belief that you can grow and learn throughout life and that your ability is not something that you are born with.
Sounds philosophical and soft, but it has since been underpinned by advances in neuroscience and psychological research and has proven to have a hard business impact. Research started with school children and the way that different children handle challenges and setbacks. Since its application to the business context, researchers have seen it linked to higher levels of performance, greater frequency of feedback and different ways that information is processed in the brain. Some of its biggest applications have been in goal-setting, performance and development conversations in the business context. It’s also believed to be a core principle underpinning an innovation mindset.
Growth vs Fixed Mindset
A Growth Mindset is contrasted by a Fixed Mindset, which is a belief that you are the way you are and that you can’t get better. In truth, we possess both mindsets that vary related to certain tasks that trigger either a Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset response. Sometimes, having a Fixed Mindset is okay, but for important tasks it can hamper our performance.
For example, I can have a belief in my ability to improve my rugby skills, but if I’m not big enough to make the Springboks I still won’t make it. Although I can definitely improve my ability at rugby, I also have to be realistic and recognise what parts of the environment trigger which mindset to leverage the best parts of my thinking.
Where having a mindset does not serve us, and is easily triggered, is in learning something new, which normally prompts a Fixed Mindset reaction. In the new world of work there is an increased need to learn and adapt that will ultimately determine our ability to succeed and grow. However, our mindset is at the core of how we interpret the inevitable challenges thrown at us.
A Fixed Mindset response generally focuses on looking good at all times. This places an emphasis on proving oneself, demonstrating skill and performing better than others. Although this can be used to describe the current status quo of business, many companies and institutions are beginning to realise the negative side effects of this dated approach in the new world of work.
This mindset makes us focus on problems, get bogged down in details, be defensive or anxious and get derailed by negative emotions. However, if we change the focus to not ‘look good’ (Fixed) but ‘get better’ (Growth) we can change the way we interpret the same challenges or changes. We focus on improving ourselves, developing skills and performing better than before. When you apply this approach to work you seek out role models, take better risks, set better goals and ultimately become more effective — because it comes from a belief that you can get better.
Leverage your brain for better performance
A Growth Mindset can be nudged with language and changed over time. How you set goals, give feedback and have conversations can all influence whether you trigger a Fixed or Growth Mindset response.
Once you understand Fixed and Growth mindsets there are two strategies to make sure you elicit the best response to challenges in your business environment. One easy way is to simply add the word “yet” when communicating feedback.
Instead of saying that someone “did not do a presentation well,” say that they “did not do the presentation well yet.” This places a focus and a belief on the ability to improve and not a focus on judging performance. This enables the brain to be at its best to process this information and see it as an opportunity to grow and not an opportunity to justify performance or get bogged down in details.
Another great way is to apply the Rule of Three when faced with a challenge that you find threatening. When faced with a challenge think about where you were six months ago, or how you had previously approached a different challenge, and reflect on your progress.
Once you acknowledge your progress, think about where you might be six months after this challenge. This reaffirms the belief that we can all get better and that challenges, although they may stretch us, make us better by the end of it.
By being aware of how our mindset affects us and taking active steps to reframe the same challenges that initially scared us, we can leverage our brains for better performance.