Conceptualized by Stanford University’s Professor of Psychology, Carol Dweck as a means of changing the educational process in today’s schools, the growth mindset is a concept designed to change how children and teachers approach learning and development.
Although it was developed decades ago, it has continued to be considered a way of looking at intelligence and figuring out how to help learners expand their capacity beyond the framework of a fixed mindset, which is what most educational philosophies have essentially encouraged.
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Molding Minds Within the Educational Framework
A growth mindset involves the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed over time with the right environment and encouragement rather than assuming that a person’s skills and abilities are fixed.
Rather than praising someone for being smart, the idea here is to emphasize the hard work they have accomplished.
By doing so, researchers found that those being praised for hard work, will continue to work harder. While those who were merely told they were smart tended not to make much further effort.
As a still relevant concept, it was just announced in January 2016 that researchers at Stanford University would be partnering with ClassDojo, an education startup from San Francisco, to teach young people about the growth mindset.
The idea is to show children, teachers, and parents the value of praising strategies that are developed by a person and then follow-up to see how these strategies did or did not produce the desired results.
From there, the person is able to learn how they might change their strategy in order to get the desired higher results in learning.
Applying the Growth Mindset to Businesses
While this educational direction has been the focus of the growth vs. fixed mindset concept, it does have application for other areas of life, including numerous ways this strategy of commenting and praising how the actual work was done, can be incorporated into a business model.
In a 2008 speech at Stanford, Carol Dweck noted how the concept could be applied to the mindset of a leader, which is critical to team development, staff motivation, and the achievement of strategic objectives.
While leaders with a fixed mindset tend to “place greater value on looking smart and are less likely to believe that they or others can change,” those leaders with a growth mindset “place high value on learning, are open to feedback and are confident in their ability to cultivate their own and others’ abilities.”
In an article for the Stanford University alumni magazine, further application for business was suggested in terms of how fixed and growth mindsets impact a business.
The example of Enron’s collapse was cited and explained through its talent-obsessed culture where praise for talent and intelligence led those working for the company to lie about any problems rather than admit to the mistakes and problems so that the company could attack, strategize and create a solution.
No one wanted to admit to any type of failure because it was not acceptable in that organization’s culture to make an error.
However, in applying a growth mindset to this situation, it would have been better to promote a culture that accepted failure or mistakes as a way to learn more effectively and improve in those areas that clearly still needed further development.
Likewise, companies today that can focus on continual learning and accept mistakes and failure as necessary to the overall development process are far more likely to succeed in the long term.
The same article also cited another professor who stated that the growth vs. fixed mindset had other implications for business in terms of performance management.
Stanford Business School professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer stated that businesses spend “too much time in rank-and-yank mode, grading and evaluating people instead of developing their skills.”
If a leader can apply their own growth mindset to those within the organization, they will be more willing to invest in programs and strategies designed to encourage new or enhanced skills, which is more likely to produce the intended results better than checking off boxes on a performance review.
For further business application, a 2014 Harvard Business Review article focused on the research that Carol Dweck and three colleagues in collaboration with Senn Delaney, a consulting firm, have been doing since 2010 to asses if an organization can have a fixed or growth mindset like an individual.
Their initial research revealed some interesting findings:
“Employees at companies with a fixed mindset often said that just a small handful of ‘star’ workers were highly valued. The employees who reported this were less committed than employees at growth-mindset companies and didn’t think the company had their back. They worried about failing and so pursued fewer innovative projects. They regularly kept secrets, cut corners, and cheated to try to get ahead.”
In contrast, the researchers noted a different approach in those organizations that were identified as having a growth mindset:
“Supervisors in growth-mindset companies expressed significantly more positive views about their employees than supervisors in fixed-mindset companies, rating them as more innovative, collaborative, and committed to learning and growing. They were more likely to say that their employees had management potential.”
Although Dweck and her research team have yet to connect growth mindsets with higher performance, they have concluded that organizations with these mindsets have happier employees along with cultures that are more innovative and likely to take greater risks to achieve their strategic objectives.
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Pursuing an Organizational Growth Mindset
If an organization wants to pursue this mindset, it is up to top-level management and the leaders to drive this type of change and incorporate it through the promotion of continual learning, acceptance of mistakes, and an overall focus on “maximizing employees’ potential.”
This means hiring from within rather than seeking outsiders as well as valuing potential and a watching for those with a passion or an affinity for learning over credentials and previous accomplishments.
Fixating on the capacity for growth among the team may be the key to yielding significant advantages over an organization that simply focus on the existing level of talent they have in place.