You may have heard the term “Growth Mindset,” and maybe even have read something about it. There’s a reason why every business school in the country is researching and writing about it…because Growth Mindset is a game changer. But with its emphasis on risk-taking and embracing mistakes as an inevitable step toward growth, many managers and companies have serious adjustments to Growth Mindset.
It’s not a surprise. Anyone who ever has been responsible for producing error-free content or whose performance was based on the absolute standard that, above all else, the data must be accurate, knows how easy it is to point the finger. After all, for generations, business culture has included that glee-like, reflexive action of assigning blame to those who make mistakes. Those left standing in companies, those in the corner offices, were not those with the best ideas; they were those who knew how to avoid making mistakes, particularly of the conspicuous variety.
Think about how many people we revere from history and business have talked about the importance of learning from failure, about resilience and getting up after you’ve been knocked down, and about the power of new ideas. But new ideas often are messy, and most business cultures don’t tolerate messy. Shifting to a Growth Mindset is difficult for many because we grew up in a Fixed Mindset environment that revered “talent,” which equated “talent,” above all else, with those who thrived in an environment that abided by the maxim of “zero tolerance for mistakes.”
With a Growth Mindset, you don’t actively try to make mistakes, but they’re not the enemy either. Growth Mindset means learning from your mistakes. You use them to fuel opportunities to develop new strategy. If you have a Fixed Mindset (and we all do, in certain areas), you see talent as innate. Using the gift of hindsight, many now say that Enron failed because of its “talent mindset.” Enron’s reverence for talent was so pervasive, it prevented the company from admitting mistakes and learning from failure. Mistakes were buried to protect its image, and such protectionism led to lying and, ultimately, to a spectacular downfall that likewise claimed the accounting icon Arthur Andersen.
By contrast, if you operate under a Growth Mindset, you understand that a human’s brain can change and grow with effort. Managers who adopt this mindset foster collaboration and innovation among their employees. They spend less time finding fault and pointing the finger, and are more attuned to their employees’ improvements.
Growth Mindset begins at the top and is “modeled downward.” Company leaders must drive this shift to offset the fear of “being judged” and open themselves up to feedback and learning new things.
Here are 7 ways to incorporate a Growth Mindset into your own business practices, based largely on Growth Mindset authority Carol Dweck’s formula for success:
- Become less defensive about your own mistakes. This means you actually admit your mistakes…out loud, in front of other people. Examine how you can grow from the feedback you receive. Be deliberate about explaining how you are planning to grow from the process.
- Examine how you have become better and accept feedback from everyone, not only those above a certain pay grade or within your inner circle. Not only will you learn more, but you will also encourage collaboration and feedback. When did co-workers or employees see you take a leap forward?
- Evaluate how you treat others in the workplace. Are you more focused on finding and fixing mistakes than on coaching and encouraging others to grow through new ideas? Do you ever demean others to elevate yourself? Consider how to help your employees develop, through apprenticeships, workshops, or coaching. Dweck encourages leaders to make a list of strategies for providing coaching and feedback and just try them out.
- Whether you run an entire company or a department, try to examine as much as you can through a Growth Mindset lens. Are there areas where you now reward “talent” over genuine performance, innovation, or teamwork? Recalibrate your criteria to celebrate problem-solving, creativity, and learning. Tell Growth Mindset stories to your staff and teammates and watch what happens!
- Acknowledge your own “Fixed Mindset.” We all have cemented viewpoints about ourselves, our organizations, and our families. I see myself as “bad at math” and “unable to read maps,” and use those “truths” as excuses for not trying. Dweck tells us to “name it, claim it, and talk about it.” This helps us to develop healthy, more productive responses to challenges we previously would avoid. I have literally given the name “Albert” to my fixed mindset about math and maps. And I encourage my colleagues to alert me to those moments when “Albert,” and all of his limitations, is making a visit.
- Embed a Growth Mindset approach into your policies and procedures. Build in time for reflection, Growth Mindset storytelling, and problem solving.
- Reconfigure your workplace to redefine “groupthink.” Groupthink always has been a bad thing. A group was where new ideas went to die, unable to withstand the collective scrutiny of a Fixed Mindset culture that rewarded the ability to predict and avoid problems and mistakes. Establish avenues for collaboration; create incentives for overcoming obstacles rather than merely punching holes in ideas. Absolutely, assemble the “Red team” to play devil’s advocate and locate problems, but only with the understanding that its role is one step toward enabling new ideas…to propel new ideas not to dismantle them. Dweck reminds us that people can become independent thinkers and team players at the same time.
Jenny Cudahy is a principal at SRD Communications. Jenny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.