“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” – Carol Dweck.
Takeaway: People with a growth mindset believe that their abilities can be developed through work. They tend to be more successful than those who believe their talents are fixed.
Learning about Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s findings of the different mindsets was one of the most powerful lessons at business school for me. Her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” is a bestseller (highly recommended) and if you have ten minutes after reading this post, go and watch her TEDx talk (scroll down).
In decades of research on how the human mind is shaped and developed, Dweck found that individuals can be placed on a continuum according to where they believe their personality, talents, and intelligence come from. She distinguishes between people with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset:
People with a fixed mindset believe that they are born with certain abilities and traits and these are mostly static. In other words, there’s nothing they can do to significantly develop their talents. As a result, people with a fixed mindset pick challenges they know they can master and try not to stretch themselves as this will likely lead to a situation that is seen as failure by the outside world. Keeping up a smart and successful appearance is most important to them and thus they often won’t take risks to develop their full potential.
People with a growth mindset, by contrast, believe that they can acquire skills, intelligence and traits if they dedicate enough time and effort to it. As a consequence, these people love and seek challenges and see failure not as a sign of absent skills but as an opportunity to grow and stretch themselves. While they don’t necessarily believe that anyone can become world-class in anything they do, they do believe that anyone can become better through dedication.
In other words, while those with a fixed mindset say “I can’t do this”, those with a growth mindset say “I can’t do this, yet.” Even though your tendency towards one mindset is often formed in early childhood, it is possible to develop and reshape your attitude towards abilities, success, and failure. And Dweck’s research has found that it’s very beneficial to live with a growth mindset: Those with a growth mindset enjoy learning, have a playful approach to challenge and feel less pressure to prove over and over that they are good enough. When things don’t go well the growth mindset equips people with resilience, they embrace their imperfections instead of trying to hide them. Their ultimate goal is growth and reaching their full potential which is only possible by experiencing setbacks.
As a manager, teacher or parent, who wants to develop the growth mindset of others, we should praise and promote the potential abilities and invested effort of others over their current abilities and achievements. For fulfilling personal and professional relationships, we should approach our differences in the growth mindset, too. Differences often lead to conflict and if we enter those conflicts with the fixed mindset, we will blame our own or our partner’s personality traits – and since those are fixed, the situation can’t be solved. But if we approach our relationships with a growth mindset, we will recognize that we haven’t learned how to deal with these differences, yet and that we can develop these skills and grow together.
This is an admittedly a very short summary of Dweck’s extensive findings and I highly encourage you to read more about her research and how this can make us happier, more resilient and more successful. The TED talk below is a good starting point.