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What Does It Mean to Have a Growth Mindset?

As humans, our minds constantly monitor the events that occur in our lives and interpret the meaning of the things that are happening. Our mindset is what dictates how we perform the tracking of these situations and how we react to what takes place.
When it comes to learning, there are typically two main ideas that are promoted: People either have a “growth mindset” or they have a “fixed mindset.” These ideas are based on the research findings of renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, who has spent decades researching achievement and success in the education system.
But, what exactly is a growth mindset, and what does it mean for individuals within businesses or other organizations to have one?

What is a Growth Mindset?

Dweck’s research studies the growth and fixed mindsets among individuals within various organizations with the goal of figuring out how to use their attributes to close achievement gaps.
In a nutshell, people with growth mindsets are constantly trying to learn and grow to better themselves. These are individuals who enjoy challenges and believe that their intelligence, talents, and basic abilities can be increased or enhanced through hard work and dedicated effort.
In an article Dweck wrote for the Harvard Business Review, she describes people with a growth mindset as:

“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).”

Promoting the Concept of “Yet”

In her TED talk, which has been watched by more than seven million people to date, Dweck talks about the power of “yet.” This concept promotes the idea that everyone is on an individual learning curve and can continually improve and develop to achieve things in the future that they cannot yet accomplish.
Rather than thinking you’re not good at something — you’re not a strong presenter, you’re not good at balancing budgets, or you’re not good at tackling new technology — Dweck urges people to add “yet” to the end of the statement. You’re not a strong presenter yet. Or, you’re not good at learning new technology yet. Learning is an ongoing process, and what someone is not good at now may be something they’ll be good at a few months from now.
This concept also relates in some ways to the mindset of gamers that is promoted by Big Think expert, author, and video game designer Jane McGonigal. The “gamer way of thinking” is all about tackling challenges and learning ways to make oneself better and become better at achieving those tasks. When engaging in games, people are not only trying to improve their knowledge and skills, they are also trying to help others around them (teammates) do that as well. So they are not only engaging in their own growth, but they are also encouraging others to grow.
There are several attributes that are prevalent in gamers that are consistent with a growth mindset, including:

  • Resilience;
  • Epic Ambition;
  • Optimism;
  • Creativity;
  • Perseverance;
  • Determination and Grit; and
  • Collaboration.

All of these skills and attributes are beneficial not only to our individual growth but also to our growth as part of a community. In a Big Think video, McGonigal says:

“The message needs to be this is training for real life. You know, yes, games are escapist in that we do get to escape reality when we play them, but they’re not just escapist. They’re also returnist. We return to our real lives with real ways of thinking about what we’re capable of, real ways of solving problems more creatively.”

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Applying a Growth Mindset to Businesses and Organizations

The idea of having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset is that people with a growth mindset are more willing to engage and face challenges head-on rather than run away or seek ways to circumvent them. Because individuals with growth mindsets embrace challenges and want to learn from them, they are better able to adapt how they approach various situations in the future.
In the business environment, organizations that demonstrate a growth mindset emphasize positive views of their employees and commonly have “happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture.” If people are more willing to step outside of their comfort zones, they will be able to learn and grow from these challenges and may help to increase innovation, efficiency, and productivity by creating new processes and approaches.

Setting Goals for Learning vs. Performance

With a growth mindset, the meaning of effort and difficulty are transformed. For people with a fixed mindset, challenges are obstacles that result in people feeling unintelligent, ineffective, or incapable. Whereas for people with a growth mindset, these obstacles are opportunities to reach new heights of achievement. It enables them to draw upon and expand their levels of creativity and innovation rather than backing away from challenges and thinking they don’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to address them.
In work environments, many business leaders elevate the importance of setting performance goals over setting goals for learning. However, setting learning goals is important because they help us to experiment, learn, and grow rather than simply focusing on showing others what we’re capable of doing.
This emphasizes the need to approach learning with an open mindset and to be willing to take risks. According to Herminia Ibarra, author and professor of organizational behavior and leadership at Insead in an article for the Harvard Business Review (HBR):

“Carol Dweck has shown that concern about how we will appear to others inhibits learning on new or unfamiliar tasks. Performance goals motivate us to show others that we possess valued attributes, such as intelligence and social skill, and to prove to ourselves that we have them. By contrast, learning goals motivate us to develop valued attributes.”

Rather than focusing on how others may perceive us, focusing on ways that we can enhance ourselves through learning can benefit the organizations we work for in ways that performance goals simply cannot.

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