Virtual reality; man on the moon; the Fosbury flop… imagine how different life would be if everyone believed their potential was set at birth. Some people subscribe to this so-called ‘fixed mindset’; they see their abilities as pre-determined and not worthy of trying to improve. Others have a ‘growth mindset’; they see no limit to their potential. They’ll practise and persist because they believe their skills are malleable. No prizes for guessing who has more success at work.
The concept of growth and fixed mindsets was developed by Stanford professor Carol Dweck, who discovered that some children relish the challenge of a test that’s too hard for them, seeing it as a chance to learn, while others see it as a judgment of their fixed intelligence and shy away from it, afraid of seeming ‘dumb’.
The consequences of a fixed or growth mindset are significant. In school, sports and business, studies have repeatedly shown that people with a growth mindset outperform their fixed mindset peers.
Businesses need people with growth mindsets all the more in today’s volatile climate, where survival is a matter of adapting to change. While fixed mindset employees prefer tasks they know they’ll excel at, those who see their abilities as malleable have a vociferous appetite for learning, seeking out experiences that’ll equip them with new skills.
Luckily, mindset itself is not fixed. There are ways to encourage a growth mindset. Educating employees about the difference is a simple and effective one. In Dweck’s research, children who were taught that the brain is a muscle that gets stronger with practice saw marked improvements in their grades.
But it’s not just down to individuals. Pupils are more likely to improve if their teacher has a growth mindset; athletes whose coaches believe that success is a result of hard work outperform those who attribute it to natural talent. So managers must adopt a growth mindset towards their teams, believing that people can and will improve. The more they prime their employees with this view, the more effective the results of their coaching and feedback.
When it comes to feedback, praising effort and process rather than immediate results helps to engender a growth mindset. The word ‘yet’ is a simple yet transformative tool. When improvement feedback is framed as ‘not yet’, it builds belief that success is within reach. To transform performance, to paraphrase Dweck, let people “luxuriate in the power of yet”.