Your beliefs matter. What you think determines what you do. What you think also determines what you can—and can't.
Or, as Henry Ford once put it:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right.”
While this may sound overly simplistic, lots of research has shown there's a clear distinction between people who believe they can change and those who believe they can't. Our beliefs largely determine the outcome; those who believe they can change will grow in knowledge and skill, and those who believe their abilities are fixed a birth will not bother to learn anything new.
Why is this important? To make change possible, you first need to believe you can change. Then, you need to believe that challenges are okay and necessary to learn. In other words: to learn and change, you need to adopt a growth mindset.
In this article, we'll dive into the main differences between growth and fixed mindsets, and the consequence of each. Then, we'll discuss the need of cultivating a growth mindset in yourself and your company, before ending with one simple exercise to start cultivating one today.
What mindset do you have?
With a growth mindset, you deeply believe that you improve in small, incremental steps. You realize that your abilities and intelligence are not set in stone, but that they can be nurtured. When you believe you can grow, you see yourself as a perpetual work-in-progress—and you're completely okay with that.
Contrast this with a fixed mindset; the belief that your abilities are set in stone. With this mindset, you believe people are static, not able to grow. Furthermore, you are more likely to try to maintain the status quo and minimize your mistakes. You focus on the things you are good at, never taking a risk to try something new.
Nobody has always a growth mindset or always a fixed mindset. Your mindsets are on a spectrum, depending on your current energy level and the life area that belief is about. Maybe you play chess on a high level and participate in tournaments, knowing how much hard work it took. But what if you never gave a presentation and suddenly your manager asks you to give one? You're more likely to believe that you are not able to do it nor able to learn it. You have a growth mindset in one area, but a fixed mindset in another.
The first step in cultivating a growth mindset is noticing when you have a fixed mindset. When someone asks you to do something, how confident are you that you're able to do it? Are you afraid of the possible challenges that will cross your path? That's a clear sign you still have a fixed mindset in that area.
Before diving into one way to cultivate a growth mindset in ourselves, let's first have a look at why it's important to cultivate it in different life areas.
Why you need a growth mindset
From the outside, it often looks like high performers have an innate talent. Take top athletes, for example; what they do looks so effortless, they must have some kind of natural magic. Right?
Wrong. Top performers always put in a lot of effort to discover what works and double down on it. They train long hours to hone their skills. Michael Jordan, for example, was an average player—until he became obsessed with basketball and therefore relentless in his training.
Any 'talent' you bring to the table are just raw materials; you have to make something from your capabilities. You need to put in long hours of deliberate practice to turn any natural advantage into a skill.
Once you realize that it takes work to hone your skills, you're well on your way to cultivate a growth mindset. This is important, because nothing stays the same. The skills that are relevant in your job today may well be obsolete within three years from now. Having the believe that you can adapt and learn new things will fire you up.
Why companies need a growth mindset
But it's not just people who need to adopt a growth mindset; companies have mindsets, too. Part of a company's mindset comes from the collective workforce, but leaders also play an important role.
Unfortunately, many companies play lip service to the growth mindset but show that they have a fixed mindset in their actions. A clear sign is when companies value diplomas and raw talent over those who can show they taught themselves the necessary skills.
When a company truly has a growth mindset, management will encourage experimentation. Instead of punishing people for trying and failing, the focus is on the experiment and lessons learned. In these companies, people are committed to finding out what works, instead of concerning themselves with status games to make themselves look good.
Employees in growth mindset companies are empowered and more committed to the organization. Because their companies value creativity and innovation—even when it doesn't work out—these employees feel their company has their back.
On the other hand, employees in fixed mindset companies are always watching their back. Whenever they make a mistake, they will try to hide it to save face. Their companies may talk creativity and innovation, but when things go wrong someone pays the price. As hidden problems pile up, people in fixed mindset companies look for the next best offer—hurting the company in the process.
Now that we know why it's useful to have a growth mindset, let's look at one way we can cultivate it in ourselves.
The power of yet
Dr. Carol Dweck, who summarized much of the research on the growth mindset in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, found a powerful technique in a Chicago high school. While a public school with many unprivileged students, they perform well above the private schools. Their secret? The word yet.
Any non-passing grade that a student gets is labeled "not yet." Very subtly, this communicates that students only need to grow a little bit more. The simple use of the word yet instills a growth mindset in students, telling them they can pass if they put the work in.
How can you use this technique in your own life? Every time you notice you're telling yourself a story that you can't do something, simply add the word "yet." So, instead of thinking "I can't do this," think, "I can't do this yet." That way, you tell yourself it's okay and that you just need to learn a little bit more.
The word yet is also useful for hiring managers and interviewers. Try to look past specific skills, instead looking at how people learned related skills. Then, tell yourself that they simply haven't learned the skill you want them to have, yet.
Let's cultivate a growth mindset, together
Are you looking for more ways to cultivate a growth mindset in yourself? Learning Worker Club is an initiative to bring together lifelong learners who want to grow professionally.
In May of 2021, a private community will be launched where you can meet and exchange ideas on how to cultivate healthier mindsets. In the meanwhile, join over 750 newsletter subscribers to get notified first when the community opens.