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| February 9, 2016

by Jim Bruce

mindset  ––  a habit or way of thinking that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.

Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has focused her research on motivation, personality, and development for over three decades and is best known for her research on intelligence and how we learn and perform.  This work indicates that individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where their ability comes from.  Some believe that their success is based on an innate ability and these individuals are said to have a fixed mindset.  They believe that they have a certain amount of brains and talent and that can’t be changed.  Others believe that brains and talent are the starting point and that their success is based on these qualities plus hard work, learning, training, and doggedness and are said to have a growth mindset.
Where one is on this continuum may be unknown to the individual but may be observed in the individual’s behavior.  Fixed mindset individuals are focused on how they perform and dread failure as they interpret it as a negative statement of their basic abilities.  They spend time documenting their intelligence and talent rather than developing them.  Growth mindset individuals don’t enjoy failing but fundamentally believe that their basic abilities can be developed through education and hard work even if they experience failure along the way.  The mindset you have plays an important role in how you live your life – your learning achievement, acquisition of skills, personal relationships, professional success, as well as many other dimensions of your life are effected.
Dweck put it this way in a 2012 OneDubliner interview with James Morehead:
“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.
“In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

The story doesn’t end here.  Dweck’s research also indicates that students given praise by being told, for example, that they did a “good job,” that they are “very smart,” or they are so “talented,” etc., all comments focused on performance, are very likely to develop a fixed mindset.   And, that those who are told “you worked very hard,” you stayed with it until you nailed it,” comments focused on their dedication, perseverance, and effort, are likely to develop a growth mindset. 
The student hears these “praise” comments as indicators of what the person making the comment values.  Comments like very smart, talented, and good job are seen as pointing to a focus on not failing, which is a key characteristic of the fixed mindset.  Comments about perseverance, sticking with it, and working hard point to a growth mindset.  And, each student will very likely do more of what’s valued.
One final point.  Work in this area with elementary school students clearly shows that it is possible to encourage students to persist despite failure.  And, this represents changing their mindset.
What does this have to do with leadership or with work?  Just this.  If you look at yourself and those who work with you, you’ll see examples of fixed mindsets – resistance to taking on something new, excuses (I’m not good at that), succeeding at any cost, cutting corners, not sharing knowledge, etc.  And, you also see examples of growth mindsets – that assignment will give me an opportunity to learn a new tool, seeking and sharing information, experimentation, volunteering, collaboration, etc. 
And, most of us would like to see more of our staff have a growth mindset.  In a recent webinar, the NeuroLeadership Institute suggested that the organizational growth mindset creates a more positive, engaged workplace, one that sees change as an exciting challenge rather than a demotivating threat.  They argue that a growth mindset leads to greater agility and engagement.
So, how do you promote a growth mindset in an organization?  Dweck suggests that you begin by valuing talent, by seeing value in an individual’s ability to grow and develop.  Some companies have begun to do this by radically changing their performance evaluations.  Today, most such evaluations focus exclusively on how you have performed – think five point rating scales, words like unsatisfactory–satisfactory–excels, ladders, etc.  (The Nine Box evaluation system is a notable exception with its focus on both performance and potential.)  Instead, new evaluation systems are focused more on how you have grown, and what you have learned.
They encourage the work of teams reducing focus on the individual star contributor, they reward sharing of information, collaboration, and they reward reasonable risk.  The NeuroLeadership Institute has recently introduced a program called ADAPT to help managers become more positive, flexible, and engaged in the fact of constant change.  The program’s focus is on understanding the brain’s response to change, managers adopting a growth mindset, and fostering in their teams a growth mindset and agility with change.
I believe that we are just now on the threshold of individuals, teams, and larger organizations exploring how having a growth mindset can change work and life for the better.  This is really a time for learning, exploring, and experimentation.  Perhaps you will take some time this week to get started.
Make it a great week.  .  .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Random House 2007.
Shane Parish, Carol Dweck:  The Two Mindsets And The Power of Believing That You Can Improve, The Farnam Street Blog
Carol Dweck, Developing a Growth Mindset, YouTube Video.
Carol Dweck, Carol Dweck Revisits the Growth Mindset, Education Week.
Marina Krakovsky, The Effort Effect, Stanford Magazine
NeuroLeadership Institute, Why Organizational Growth Mindset Matters