Growth Mindset - Question mark in maze shows thinking

Last week, I and a whole bunch of enthusiastic change practitioners, attended the Bi-annual ChangeConnect Awards in Adelaide.  During the opening remarks, Susan Stewart spoke about change, including the work of Carol Dweck.

I’m a huge advocate of Carol Dweck’s work, and this informs the thinking and practice of Interface Consultants as we support clients.  From conversations during the session, I thought it might be both interesting and useful to put some thoughts to paper and keep the dialogue going!

So, some background for those less familiar with her work…  Professor Carol Dweck is a Stanford psychologist who has spent her career researching learning, particularly exploring the mindset for success. She characterises a mindset as being someone’s entire psychological world, where their outlook and attitudes are founded on their core beliefs. Following extensive studies, her research shows that people tend to have one of two belief systems that create their mindset about work, learning and their own abilities.  That is, a fixed or growth mindset; characterised in the table below.

Fixed Mindset

Steeped in the ‘tyranny of now’

Growth Mindset

Steeped in the ‘power of not yet’

Praises shallowly – emphasises talents which leads to vulnerability Praises wisely – emphasises process and perseverance
Hides flaws Values failure as an opportunity
Avoids challenge and gives up easily Actively seeks out and persists through learning opportunities
Views feedback as personal criticism Welcomes feedback
Feels threatened by other’s success Views other’s success as inspirational

A fixed mindset

People with a fixed mindset hold the belief that you are born with certain talents, abilities and intelligence – if you like, a ‘core intelligence’ that is fixed. And, we have a lot of language that reinforces this belief.  ‘They’re very smart’, ‘I’m no good at …’, ‘Some people are born natural leaders’, ‘She has a gift for…’.

People with this mindset believe you either have it or you don’t, and there are a range of behaviours which reflect this world view. The first rule of a fixed mindset is always look clever. What’s more, if you’re not going to look clever, don’t do it. Hide mistakes, conceal shortcomings. The fixed mindset presumes that mistakes and shortcomings are permanent.  Further, working hard, and looking like you are working hard, diminishes abilities.

A growth mindset

People with a growth mindset believe that talent, abilities and intellect can grow with hard work. They are constantly seeking out opportunities to learn. They’re the people who are enthusiastic and actively curious when new initiatives are introduced, and keen to explore and play, or the first ones to sign up for anything that is optional.

People with a growth mindset embrace and encourage tenacity.  For them, it’s much more important to seek feedback and improve than be the highest ranked team member. It’s not that they don’t care about rankings – they do. But, they care even more about having an interesting, challenging role.  One where they get to explore, persist and think differently as they work with interesting and diverse people.

They embrace the power of ‘not yet!’ – it means they are on a learning curve – a pathway to the future.  Effort and difficulty don’t mean that you can’t do it, rather it’s an awakening of the power of ‘not yet!’.  Importantly, they believe that hard work brings learning and progress – and is, therefore, in and of itself rewarding.

Importantly, we all have elements of both mindsets.

What are some of the impacts relative to change?

Some thoughts and questions for further discussion:

  • From a change perspective, to what extent do you believe you (and your organisation) might be non-consciously communicating and reinforcing habits linked with the fixed mindset characteristics?
  • How do we, as change practitioners, help to prepare people, teams and organisations to keep motivated (energised) in the ‘not quite yet’ space?
  • ‘Effort’ – and reward for effort – is viewed quite differently through the two mindset lenses. This is important when we consider the ‘effort’ that is required through change activities – for individuals, teams and organisations.  What are your thoughts, insights or experiences?
  • Neuroscience – through plasticity – is also helping to show us that when we take on something hard, the connections in the brain get stronger and our abilities grow. Growth mindset brains are firing and wiring, not so for fixed mindset brains!  What are your thoughts, insights or next level questions?
  • Praising abilities – would your organisation’s approach to performance system benefit from a refresh?
  • This also leads to conversations about the power of language – a major source of energy motivation or demotivation in change.   Perhaps a topic for a further paper?
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