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:
- 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?