How to Foster a Growth Mindset
February 27, 2017
Fostering a growth mindset may be the most valuable thing you can do this year. You’ll soon gain a full understanding of what it means to embrace a growth mindset and you’ll be given the tools to practice this skill at work in order to keep this proficiency sharp.
- Hummingbirds can’t walk.
- People who have been happily married for 25+ years develop an increasing number of shared facial characteristics (being empathetic seems to be a major contributor).
- The djembe is a carved, wooden African drum with three tones and it’s from the country of Mali in West Africa (and it’s infectious for dancing).
- Oysters are protandrous hermaphrodites – they can change gender multiple times in their lifespan to better ensure their populations.
- You know those undulating inflatable figures in front of car dealerships? They were first conceptualized for the 1996 Olympics and reminiscent, for the designing artist, of festive dancers from his home of Trinidad and Tobago.
Did you learn anything new from those facts? Perhaps, like me, you found yourself raising an eyebrow in wonder, smiling over a fact that was especially interesting to you or even turning to the person sitting beside you and sharing one of those tidbits. That bit of joy you experienced is all thanks to the feel-good neurochemical dopamine being released in your brain which is rewarding you for accomplishing learning.
The amazing thing about dopamine is that it doesn’t just make you feel good – it is linked to increased productivity, retention, drive and overall well being. Like most businesses, we place a premium on those characteristics so we’re very intentional about promoting continual learning in our community.
stable|kernel’s curiosi-tree! This cherry blossom tree blooms with tags of knowledge that are just waiting to be picked.
Understanding a growth mindset
If you work anywhere near the tech industry, you’ve been inundated, over the last several years, with the sentiment that you should “fail fast and fail often.” While I can appreciate the unavoidable and important role of failure in an industry of great innovation, and will happily concede that we can find enlightenment in the unexpected landing places of our failures, it’s always felt to me that Babineaux and Krumboltz’s turn of phrase elevated the wrong thing. Failing fast and failing often smacks of irresponsibility. Embracing the failure mindset puts one on a direct path to dissatisfaction and failing simply doesn’t feel good. Finally, failure left unexamined is little more than wasted time.
Perhaps this is why I’ve gravitated so strongly to the work of Babineaux and Krumboltz’s fellow Stanford Alumnus Psychologist Carol Dweck who coined the phrase “growth mindset” after researching for decades the way people (especially children) approach and respond to challenges.
Related: Words to Live By
Dweck’s philosophy doesn’t focus on the failures, but on the important learning and growth that happens by diligently working through and solving challenges. Elementally, Dweck argues that we approach obstacles with either a fixed or growth mindset. In understanding these mindsets and how to foster them we can shape the successes of ourselves, our employees and our organizations.
Let’s use this table influenced by Dweck’s “Mindset: The new quality of success” to outline the general differences in a fixed versus growth mindset:
|Your intelligence/creativity/athleticism is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much||Intelligence/creativity/etc. is highly malleable and can be strengthened|
You can learn new things but you can’t really change how intelligent/artistic/athletic you are
|You have a lot of control over how intelligent you are|
|You can do things differently but at your core you remain the same||Everyone has the ability to change substantially|
|You become easily deterred by challenges||You embrace challenges as a way of pushing yourself to learn something new|
Dweck offers up a couple of important considerations. First, she posits we may have a fixed mindset about some things and a growth mindset about others. As an example, I might believe that I’m never going to be a good athlete (fixed) but that I am really capable of learning to play the cello (growth). So while mindsets aren’t mutually exclusive, the research suggests we generally default to one versus the other. Another important point is that both mindset styles are self-fulfilling: if you believe you can’t get better/smarter/faster you probably won’t, and if you do believe you can change those factors you probably will.
A fantastic payoff of the growth mindset is that when you practice it your mind rewards you with that rush of dopamine that not only makes you feel good, but that increase your engagement and retention. Once we’ve tasted such victory, our brains crave rewarding stimuli and the dopamine boosts our motivation to achieve yet again. That’s pretty convincing evidence in support of practicing a growth mindset as often as possible!
Practicing a growth mindset at work
Consider how this basic understanding of Dweck’s philosophy applies to situations you might face at work. Can you picture a colleague or a client who may have a different mindset than you do? Yep, I thought so.
Collaborating with someone who is stuck in a fixed mindset can seriously impede productivity, progress and engagement, making you want to throw your hands up in frustration. But don’t! Instead, see this as an opportunity to express respectful curiosity about your colleague’s position and view their stance as a challenge you can solve. Asking questions like, “That’s interesting! Can you help me understand more about that?” may budge someone with a fixed mindset into reconsidering their own limiting view. It can reveal the core sticking points that lie between you and your goal. Once they are identified, the work of overcoming the obstacles can begin and frustration can be replaced with progress. Additionally, the very act of asking someone to share their perspective engages their brain and makes them more open to collaboration and growth.
Five things you can do right now to foster a growth mindset
What researchers don’t yet know is how long we benefit from enhanced productivity, engagement and retention once our curiosity has been awakened; however, few would argue against engaging in dopamine-boosting actions frequently. There is a wealth of ways we can pique our curiosity apart from solving the problems inherent in our day-to-day work. Here are a few favorites at stable|kernel:
- Post a problem of the week to be solved by your team, your family, etc. Riddles, math problems, logic puzzles and such can be a great source of cooperative engagement. Brilliant.org is a fantastic source of content, providing you with challenges across a wide array of content areas, progressively difficult questions, scaffolded learning support and a community with whom you can debate solutions. It’s also available as a mobile app.
- I’ve become a bit (ah, who am I kidding?) obsessively addicted to the facts curated by Curiosity. With information cataloged into nearly 400 categories, bite-sized headlines with links to deeper content, social media integrations and both mobile and web functionality, Curiosity ensures your brain will never get bored and that you’ll have a great conversation starter at your next social engagement.
- Plant a curiosi-tree! In searching for a tangible way to engage my colleagues in my love-affair with a growth mindset, I constructed a cherry blossom tree that blooms with tags of knowledge that are just waiting to be picked. Oh Pinterest, the things you inspire.
- Take a walk or eat lunch with friends while listening to a 99% Invisible podcast. I have learned so much from these 20-30 minute podcasts. Each is a thoughtfully constructed story, “about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.”
- Turn to the master of Growth Mindset herself! Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success can be found at Amazon or on the shelves of most local booksellers. Audible has a version, too.
In closing, I challenge you to modify a simple question that you probably already ask every day. Instead of asking your spouse/colleague/child, “what did you do today?” ask instead, “what did you learn today?” Their answer just might get you hooked on something you can’t wait to explore.