Growth Mindset – Where Learning and Performance Begin

Not long ago I sent a post-workshop email asking participants for feedback. This is part of my usual process to find areas to improve. Sitting with my laptop the next day, the email notification popped up. I had a response to my feedback email. My feeling is always a mixture of anticipation and, let’s be honest, dread. Even though I talk about the usefulness of giving and receiving feedback. And the need for it to be specific. It’s never comfortable when someone gives you feedback on things you could do better. On this occasion the participant had enjoyed a lot about the workshop. Yet, there were one or two things they felt needed addressing. A whole flurry of thoughts entered my mind about how I could respond and defend myself. “How dare they?” I thought.  I was having a fixed mindset attack.

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck has spent many years researching what makes people successful. Her findings: more than anything else success has to do with a person’s mindset. Her work describes two types of mindset. A fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Fixed mindset

People with a fixed mindset believe that skills are born. Hard work and effort are not necessary. You should be good enough already. They avoid challenges and see them as a threat. They get defensive and take criticism or feedback as a personal attack. They hate mistakes and get discouraged by them. I’ve been using the word “they”. The reality is many of us will have a fixed mindset in different situations and circumstances. It’s not one or the other all the time. So I should use “we”.

Growth mindset

A growth mindset is the foundation for learning. When we adopt a growth mindset we believe that we can build and develop our abilities and skills. We embrace challenges as an opportunity for growth and learning. We see feedback or criticism as a gift and appreciate it. Mistakes are useful for learning. Hard work and effort are the pathway for our growth. The growth mindset is the way we achieve mastery.

This video below from Train Ugly provides a useful summary of the two mindsets.

We’ve looked at mindsets with a team I’ve been working with recently. Here are six of our learnings:

1. A growth mindset provides the platform for feedback 

The primary goal of feedback is to improve performance. Across both technical and interpersonal skills. When we create an environment that encourages a growth mindset, feedback becomes a gift. We provide specific feedback on the process that will lead to improvement. In my story above I had to change my mindset. The person had spent time thinking about how I could improve. Their feedback is actually a gift because it’s given me things that I can work on to be better next time.

2. A growth mindset is the foundation for a culture of learning

When we adopt a growth mindset we focus on how can we learn from challenges. How can we learn from mistakes. How can we learn from feedback. In order for organisations and teams to perform better there needs to be a higher rate of learning. A fixed mindset leads to stagnation and an inability to cope with or embrace change.

3. A growth mindset enables us to avoid motivational slumps

Mistakes and criticism often cause us emotional pain. Choosing a growth mindset helps us not to stay in that state. We switch to thinking about the learning opportunity and the way forward. As we start to make progress we feel better.

4. A growth mindset is essential to the future of work 

There is much talk about the rapid change of the nature of our work. Robots are taking our jobs. Many of the jobs that we’re doing now will become obsolete in years to come. This is a complex issue to which I do not pretend to have all the answers to. Yet, I believe the growth mindset is pivotal to the way we approach change. We’ll be more prepared to adapt to the opportunities of new technology with a growth mindset.

5. Have a support network that understands the growth mindset

We don’t live in a vacuum. Most of us need friends, family or colleagues that we can share the sting of mistakes and criticism with. It can be easy for those conversations to focus on the personal element and not provide a way forward. We need supporters who can acknowledge the pain and then help us see the opportunity for growth.

6. We need a growth mindset towards others

The growth mindset doesn’t just apply to how we view ourselves. It also applies to how we view others. Do we believe that other people can grow, learn and improve also. When we encounter people displaying a fixed mindset we can ask “learning” related questions. This may encourage them to focus on process rather than outcomes. And adopt a growth mindset.

Changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset

Carol Dweck has suggested a process for changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

  1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice”. Usually occurs when you approach a challenge, make a mistake or face criticism.
  2. Recognise you have choice. We have full autonomy over our attitudes and mindsets.
  3. Talk back with a growth mindset “voice”. Are there some mantras or prompts you can come up with to help with this? Here are some I’ve found useful: Is this an opportunity for growth? I get to do hard things / Take the gift and move forward / Time to learn and grow. Carol Dweck suggests that when you see yourself saying “I can’t do this” add the word “yet”.
  4. Take the growth mindset action. Keep moving forward. This will reinforce your growth mindset.

While the feedback I received was difficult to hear, I chose to see it as a gift. I’ve taken on board the suggestions that will lead to more value for my clients and grow my own learning.

Could a growth mindset improve both work and personal circumstances for you? It is the key to progress in many arenas. And if you think you can’t do it… add “yet”!

Doug Maarschalk is a trainer, facilitator and coach who uses the principles of intrinsic motivation as the foundation for his work. He has worked with New Zealand businesses in the horticulture, legal, accounting, financial services, real estate and healthcare sectors.
Read more about the Services Doug provides and the Clients he has worked with.