What is a Growth Mindset?
Let’s take it back a couple of steps. Scholar Carol Dweck wanted to find out how children reacted when given sets of increasingly difficult mathematics problems to solve. What she found astonished her, some children responded by saying “I love a challenge!” “You know, I was hoping this would be informative.” These kids understood that their intelligence can be developed. They loved to be challenged and instead of looking at bad marks as a failure of their intelligence, they saw it as an opportunity to grow.
The opposite of growth mindset is fixed mindset. The kids who took the test who had a fixed mindset took their failure really hard. They believed that their success or failure is a direct reflection on their intelligence, and therefore, mistakes are something to be avoided at all costs. What she found next was even more surprising, she found that these kids can be taught to have a growth mindset, and when they started looking at “failures” as challenges, they started to excel.
We’re not that much different than those kids. Ok, we’ve got a job, and have a nice house and we get to decide when we go to bed, but underneath it all, we have fundamental beliefs about ourselves and the world that were shaped when we were children. These ways of thinking shape the way we interact with the world.
Dweck wrote in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”
“I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated:Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .”
Ok great, you’re thinking, but how does this apply to business?
Let me introduce you to two friends of mine, Bernard and Bernie.
The Story of Bernard and Bernie
Bernard is a solid guy who likes stability and order. For his whole life, he has been told if he does things the right way in the right order good things will follow. He did well at school, always getting top results, he went and earned an MBA and became a successful manager in a large organization. He’s data focused, he’s got statistics, analytics, pie charts and graphs to objectively measure and monitor his customer base. By doing his research and collecting as much data as possible he reduces risk, and can make calculated investments and consistent progress. So far so good.
But let’s throw a spanner in Bernard’s works. Let’s give him a promotion - and not just any promotion - but a promotion with a chance to accelerate growth in the business by pushing a new technology. This technology has never been seen before, so no one knows how it will fare on the market. Bernard doesn’t really want the promotion, he knows this is getting into territory he’s not that familiar with, but his boss insists that he takes it. Reluctantly, Bernard takes the promotion and he does what he’s always done.
He hits the data and the analytics. After analysing any data he can get his hands on, and looking at past trends of similar (but not the same) technologies, he thinks he knows what the customers want. He finally finds something he believes might be a winner, but there’s no hard data to back up the idea. Careful not to stick his neck out and ruin his chances of success, he keeps his idea quiet.
What Bernard doesn’t realise is that true innovation comes when addressing unarticulated needs. Bernard has no insight into these because he only understands customers as data. Furthermore, Bernard is placing big bets slowly, which actually increases risk because every bet has a huge amount of resources stacked behind it. Bernard has a lot riding on this big idea of his and he’s not open interested in anyone telling him it might not work or it has to be done differently. For Bernard, failure is not an option and he’s going to do whatever it takes to make it work.
I’m sorry to say that for Bernard there’s no happy ending. It’s a shame because I know Bernard has the intelligence to take on this task, he just needs to change his perspective and expand his repertoire.
Meet Bernie. Bernie sees life as a journey. He was always the kid who stuck his hand up in class to ask “stupid” questions because he knew he could only learn from the answers. Sure he liked good grades, but when he didn’t get one he saw it as a challenge to do better. He may have studied business, but he may have studied something unrelated. What we do know about Bernie is that he looks for the opportunity to learn with new experiences, this means he has a broad repertoire because he’s tried so many different things.
Bernie manages risk through action. He likes to experiment, and he experiments on a small scale a lot. Let’s say that Bernard turned down the promotion and Bernie stepped in. Bernie decides to involve retailers and customers as early as possible. He isn’t content with data and objective observations, he really wants to understand the customer’s problems, so he gets close to them. He organises phone calls, and house visits, he really gets into the customer’s environment. Based on the knowledge he gains, he produces prototypes of his product and distributes them to a limited amount of retailers, so he can observe how customers respond to the product. Based on this information he tweeks the product until it works. Bernie has placed a lot of small bets quickly because he knows he might fail fast, but he’s going to succeed sooner because he’s in tune with his customers.
Why is this creative thinking important in business? Most of us live in a world of abundance, we’ve got food on our tables, a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs. We have leisure time and money to spend on things like holidays, new gadgets, and hobbies. This means we’re over-satisfied and we don’t necessarily need anything. Because of this, the market places a huge premium on the ability to convince people to buy things they didn’t even know they wanted. This requires a lot of creative thinking and risk taking through experiments.
You can see that Bernard has a Fixed Mindset - he wants to stick with the tried and true because he is terrified of failure. His way of thinking was great for business in the past, but a lot of number crunching and analytics has now been replaced by software automation. He needs a new skill set to fall back on. Bernie, on the other hand, is comfortable with risk, he may occasionally lack focus, but his results can hit the big time faster.
How do you know if you’ve got a fixed or growth mindset?
Answer these five simple questions to find out:
- Do you spend a lot of time worrying about mistakes?
- Do you consider your ideas as fully formed?
- When confronted with data that disproves your theories, do you debate the validity of the data?
- Do you measure your progress relative to your peers?
- Do you see setbacks as warning signals to abandon ship?
Mostly No - Growth Mindset
You were probably the kid in class who loved asking questions. You’re naturally curious and love to explore unfamiliar territory. Your career path has been a wild journey where you’ve worn many different hats. You’ve got a lot of creative energy and that needs to be harnessed to realize your full potential.
Mostly Yes - Fixed mindset
I bet you’re excellent with crunching numbers and analysing data. Everyone knows they can rely on you to get the job done. It can’t hurt to expand your repertoire so that when you get into a situation that you’re unfamiliar with, you’ve got some tools to fall back on.
Ready to expand your skills? Take a look at our blog post on design thinking.
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