A few years ago, I wrote a post about Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's research into fixed vs. growth mindsets, in which I briefly explored the implications of her research. As part of my own personal professional development, I've been reading more books, so finally got around to reading Dweck's excellent Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and can see even greater implications for the positive professional development I've been thinking about of late.
Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets
The premise behind Dweck's work is the idea that the view we adopt of ourselves can have profound impacts on our lives, relationships and careers. These views can be classifed as either "fixed" or "growth" mindsets.
Fixed mindset people believe that our qualities are carved in stone. We have a particular level of intelligence, particular traits, particular behaviors that define who we are that can't really be changed.
The growth mindset says that our qualities, traits and behaviors can be cultivated through our efforts. Although we can differ in terms of our aptitudes, interests or temperaments, we can change and grow in most areas through our efforts and experiences.
Dan Pink describes 3 rules of mindsets (as laid out in a Dweck lecture) that nicely describe the differences between the two:
Fixed mindset: Look clever at all costs. (“The main thing I want when I do my school work is to show how good I am at it.”)
Growth mindset: Learn, learn, learn. (“It is much more important for me to learn things in my classes than it is to get the best grades.”)
Fixed mindset: It should come naturally. (“To tell you the truth, when I work hard at my school work it makes me fee like I’m not very smart.”)
Growth mindset: Work hard, effort is key. (“The harder you work at something, the better you’ll be at it.”)
Fixed mindset: Hide your mistakes and conceal your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d spend less time on this subject from now on. I’d try not to take this subject ever again, and I would try to cheat on the next test.”)
Growth mindset: Capitalize on your mistakes and confront your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d work harder in this class and spend more time studying for the tests.”)
Implications for Learning
The implications for learning of these two mindsets are fairly obvious---the fixed mindset is clearly antithetical to real learning. It is primarily about proving what you already know. What's a challenge, though, is ferreting out where you may be ruled by a fixed mindset when you think that you are actually operating from a growth mindset. Just because you think that in general you are a growth-oriented person, you may be surprised to see that there are places in your life and career where you clearly are operating from a fixed mindset.
This may be a particular problem when it comes to learning from experiences, as opposed to participating in formal learning events. I know that for myself, I will generally be open to learning when I get the signal--"you are entering a learning situation," like a workshop, classroom, etc. I will also enter a growth mindset if I'm confronted with a situation where I clearly don't have a particular skill. (Right now I'm in growth mode over my participation in Google+)
But how open to learning am I if I'm in a work situation where I think I already know how to do the work, where I'm the "expert" and have done this many times before? Getting into growth mindset for reflective practice, where we are learning from our daily experiences, is much more of a challenge for many of us. Yet this is precisely where we may need that growth mindset the most.
Getting into Growth Mode
Adopting a growth mindset is something that we can deliberately choose and its directly tied to the idea of positive professional development, which asks us to always be thinking, "What can I learn from this situation or experience?"
Just noticing when you are moving into a fixed mindset can be a powerful way to switch back into growth mode. For example, I'm paying more attention to those situations where nothing seems to change--where I'm continually facing the same problems and challenges. These tend to be places where I've adopted a fixed mindset and basically given up on doing anything about them. But by asking myself, "What learning is available in this situation and how can I be open to it?" I've been able to begin devising new and better solutions. I've also felt less stressed about dealing with them.
I'm also making greater attempts to seek and learn from criticism. This has been a challenge at times when the person delivering the criticism is less than constructive, but I'm trying to ask probing questions that help me to understand what the person is really trying to communicate that I may be able to learn from.
I'm also trying to learn more deliberately from mistakes and failure. When things don't go as planned, I'm trying to approach the situation with a growth mindset, looking for the information in the experience that I can use to refine my approach for the next time.
Consciously incorporating a growth mindset can create huge shifts in your awareness and work habits, I'm finding. It has me constantly looking for the learning opportunity and feeds my sense of purpose. Even the frustrations in my life can be opportunities for learning.
How do the fixed and growth mindsets operate in your life? Can you see places where you have more of a fixed mindset and would like to move into growth? How do you keep that growth mindset going?
Some Additional Resources
- Fixed vs. Growth Mindset Infographic
- Transcription of Carol Dweck Keynote on Mindsets
- Developing a Growth Mindset
- Creating the Optimal Internal Learning Environment
UPDATE--here's a link to some additional resources, including several videos.