“It’s all in the mind (set)…”

“There are two types of people in this world…” is a common opening line for many jokes and internet memes. However, it was over 30 years ago that Carol Dweck identified a stark difference in resilience between groups of her students. Some were unable to deal with failure – such as on a test – while others rebounded and came back stronger. So distinct was the difference that she was able to split them into two groups – those with a ‘fixed mindset’, and those who presented what she termed the ‘growth mindset’.

Individuals with a fixed mindset often hold a binary view of the world. For example, they may not believe in the ability to grow or learn, and therefore measure their progress in terms of success or failure. This may lead them to avoid challenges and perceive obstacles as insurmountable. Such a mindset results in individuals often giving up on a challenging task because (“it cannot be done” or “I can’t do that”).

In contrast, those with a  ‘growth mindset’ embrace learning experiences no matter how uncomfortable, are more likely to embrace challenge, rebound from an initial failure, and believe perseverance is the key to “getting it done”.

It was immediately obvious to Dweck that these two different mindsets would have an impact on educational outcomes – after all, a student who fails an exam and redoubles their efforts to succeed next term is far more likely to achieve success than one who decides the course is ‘too hard’, and drops out.  In recent years these implications have also been seen to carry through into the world of work and business.

Some of the most successful individuals and businesses in the world clearly demonstrate a growth mindset. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella engineered a dramatic cultural shift across the whole business from one of hierarchy and attrition to one of exploration, collaboration and learning since his arrival in 2014. It isn’t a coincidence that the business has tripled in value since then, and many other leaders are understanding the benefits of adopting growth mindsets – and encouraging their teams to do the same.

With a growth mindset, learning something new, and stretching oneself are highly valued. As a result, people with growth mindsets are often able to explore issues and engage with topics and other individuals on a deeper and more meaningful level. This has been found to reduce anxiety in individuals, as well as bringing benefits from developing better rapport with colleagues and clients. A growth mindset sweeps away negativity, turns setbacks and disappointments into learning experiences, and celebrates and learns from the success of others. Work cultures which embrace growth mindsets often also show stronger support for risk taking, as there is no need to ‘play the blame game’ if a risk doesn’t pay off.

Unlike the joke, it turns out that there aren’t really only two kinds of people in the world. The path between having a fixed and growth mindset is a continuum, which means leaders and individuals can take small steps to nudge their teams and businesses towards embracing a growth mindset. Embracing challenges, taking a collaborative and collegiate approach to work will encourage the growth mindset to trickle down. Celebrating success as a team, engaging in regular improvement feedback (not just praise) is also crucial. Taking these small steps can encourage everyone, from the top down, to embrace a growth mindset, which might just be the key to unlock their personal – and professional – potential.

If you’d like to learn more about the Norman Broadbent Group, please contact our Group CEO, Mike Brennan, on 020 7484 0000 or via mike.brennan@normanbroadbent.com