Growing great minds

There is a strong correlation between a growth mindset culture and better performing businesses. By Fiona Hewitt.

We learn so much from our children and perhaps as working professionals we also need to take guidance from them in how they approach learning.

Some weeks ago I went to a parent session at my children’s school where they talked about their learning syllabus for the year and how they strongly incorporate a growth mindset to learning behaviours in the classroom.

I sat back and thought, not only for mine but for all children, that if they adopt this particular way of learning and thinking as standard practice then the opportunity to reframe our world for the future is significant.

So maybe we should take the lead from our kids and look at ways we can incorporate a growth mindset approach into our workplaces.

So what is a growth mindset and why is it significant? The concept of a growth mindset was first developed by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck whom, from decades of research on achievement and success, identified a core function that made all the difference to results and this was in the way people thought.

She identified that there were two different distinct styles of thinking – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.

A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching existing abilities.

By taking this view it creates a continued desire for learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

These mindsets, Dweck’s three decades of research suggest, are at the root of whether some people become the best in their field while others languish.

From a school perspective they are finding that when students and educators have a growth mindset, they understand that intelligence can be developed. Students focus on improvement and putting the emphasis on learning and building their own intelligence rather than worrying about how smart they are.

Based on years of research provided by Stanford University’s Dr Dweck, Lisa Blackwell Ph.D., and their colleagues, it showed that students who learn this mindset show greater motivation in school, better grades, and often higher test scores.

So if it works for students and their own academic progress how can it benefit organisations in a similar fashion?

Further research was undertaken by Dr Dweck to look at how a growth mindset approach influences businesses and it showed a strong correlation between a growth mindset culture and better performing businesses.

Their two year study identified that organisations also operate like individuals with a defined mindset in the way they think and believe around the concept of talent and ability.
Again there were two distinct patterns of thinking. Firstly, they observed organisations where they operated within a “culture of genius” in which talent and educational pedigree is worshipped above all else. This type of organisational culture operates from a viewpoint of “either staff have it or they don’t” when it comes to skills and learning capabilities.

According to Dweck, when organisations place a higher premium on natural talent, everyone tries to be the superstar and may be more likely to cheat or cut corners in order to always present strength, talent and “being right”. Similarly this mindset does not encourage teamwork, risk taking or agility as the need to “be the best” inhibits collaboration or creativity.

In a growth mindset “culture of development” organisation, emphasis is put on the fact that people can grow, improve with effort and support and that capability or talent isn’t static or linked to “natural intelligence”.

Research shows that in a development culture there is greater teamwork where perseverance, effort and trying new things is valued and encouraged. There is an appetite for learning, improving performance and an openness to explore and own “failure” by all without blame.

10 things to do to create a growth mindset in your organisation

  1. Educate people on the power of the brain and that how you think impacts on results and performance.
  2. Develop a level of understanding that abilities and skills can grow and be developed and that knowledge and talent is not static.
  3. Create a culture of learning from mistakes and to champion the lessons learnt. Embrace the learnings rather than see them as failure for the organisation.
  4. Reframe the languaging and purpose of organisational objectives from “being the best” to being “we will continue to learn and grow our capability”.
  5. Goals that demonstrate or communicate progression, rather than absolutes, are consistent with a development culture.
  6. Ensure that performance and evaluation measurement frameworks measure progress and effort rather than just how good an employee is. Creating a system where the focus is on the progress of the individual rather than a ranking based approach contributes to a growth mindset culture.
  7. Studies show organisations that operate with a “culture of development” will be more likely to promote and train from within where they can, and encourage development and learning rather than look externally for the “educational pedigree”.
  8. Create a culture where behaviours of people who love to be challenged, who want to grow and who want to collaborate are key to an organisation’s success and to developing an organisations “culture of development or growth mindset”.
  9. Creating an organisational culture that encourages continuous improvement is important and, in fact, vital to promote agility, innovation and risk taking.
  10. Operate from a position of improvement rather than an emphasis of being the “best”; develop an operational mantra and culture of championing a “review and refine” approach.

Developing a growth mindset may not automatically result in instant success for any organisation or individual but if we can create a mindset within organisations where people want to get consistently better, have a passion for learning and stretching themselves at every stage of their careers then just like our kids – the opportunities and positive impact from this is endless. 

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