Think of a time in your life when you were doing something new, and exciting, and fun. Maybe you were learning a musical instrument, trying a new sport, learning to paint, or even solving a sodoku puzzle. And then, after the thrill was gone, it got hard. It got difficult, and not easy, and not fun. What did you do? Did you quit? Did you press on?
Individuals adopt different types of mindset – sometimes a fixed mindset, and sometimes a growth mindset, which you can identify by their language and behavior. Those with a fixed mindset believe their skills and talents are locked in, immutable and unchanging. Those with a growth mindset believe that, with work and effort, they can grow and learn and develop.
I say sometimes, because both of these mindsets exist within us, at odds with one another all the time. The fixed mindset inside us whispers, “There’s still time to get out of here before someone notices I’m a failure,” or “I can always blame that guy if things go wrong,” or “See, I knew I couldn’t do it.”
The growth mindset within us replies, “True, but I think I can figure this out, or find someone who can help me.”
Here’s an extreme example of a growth mindset. On April 5, 2010, Dan McLaughlin quit his day job as a commercial photographer, and started a journey to become a professional golfer. He had never played golf in his life. Intrigued by the suggestion that 10,000 hours of deliberate and intentional practice could transform him into an elite player, he has set off on a quest to go pro. He’s at 4,000 hours now, has a trainer, a swing doctor, a chiropractor, and his handicap is down to 4. In his photo on twitter, he has “Persistence” written on his forearm.
Growth mindset people tend to work harder on identifying, and correcting, their mistakes. Fixed mindset people often cover, and hide, their mistakes. After all, if they can’t learn and get any better, why not hide their weaknesses?
“I think it’s really important for people to know that almost all of the great people that they admire, fabulously successful people, have had major, even monumental, setbacks that they’ve had to overcome. And that that is part of the human condition, it’s not part of being incompetent.”
– Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of Mindset
Companies have mindsets too, and you can identify the mindset of an organization, or team, if you know what to look for.
People talk about how smart they are
When team members inside an organization start to talk about how smart someone is, or how talented someone is, look out. That language builds up heroic personalities – people who need to be called in to save the day. Have you ever been in a meeting, and the meeting can’t start because a certain someone hasn’t shown up yet? It’s that palpable feeling that nothing can happen until the hero arrives.
People get defensive about feedback
When you start to see people get defensive about hearing feedback, hiding their mistakes, or assigning blame, you may be in the midst of a bozo explosion. When you hear people object immediately with, “But that’s not true…” or “That’s going to be too much work”, you’re in a place where people believe in protecting their reputation, not growing their capabilities.
People dwell on failures instead of celebrating experiments
A sign of a growth mindset culture is a constant, urgent discussion about conducting, and studying, efforts like small experiments. Up until recently Facebook had a mantra of “move fast and break things,” which was an invitation to their engineers to rapidly prototype, ship, and then study the results. When you see a culture reciting folklore about taboo activities because of some past experience, you know you’re walking in an innovation wasteland.
Most of all, listen for language that describes people as passionate and enthusiastic, instead of brilliant, or gifted and talented.
To learn about how a learning mindset can change your life and your work see: