By now I’m sure we’ve all heard of the famous book by Carol Dweck about the idea of having a growth mindset. They teach this sort of thing in schools these days – but many of us in business left school long before the book was published in 2006, and I think it’s crucial in running a successful business.
Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and she’s now well known across the globe for her work on mindset. Her TED talk has now been viewed over seven million times and remains popular several years later. In her talk she talks about a school where students, instead of being given a failing grade, were graded “not yet” – this is a key point of growth mindset.
A growth mindset is all about having the belief that you are not a fixed entity – you can grow and develop, and you can improve any of your skills and abilities. This is key in business, not only for you but for your team also. I talk a lot about the need for hiring A-grade players, and I think a large part of it is having that growth mindset, growing and developing with your business.
A growth mindset is all about “we can’t do that yet” rather than just “we can’t do this, let’s give up and call it a day.”
Here is how to cultivate a growth mindset in your business and with your team:
- Assume it’s learnable. There is absolutely no point in saying things like “I’m just not a numbers person” or “I just can’t do that.” For one thing, if you genuinely believe you are not a numbers person you may as well shut up shop right now and admit defeat. More importantly, I believe everyone is capable of learning anything when they put their mind to it. Approach everything with the attitude that it is learnable, and put a bit of effort behind it – you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.
- Embrace failure. A fixed mindset says “I failed; I must be no good at this.” A growth mindset says “well, that way didn’t work; let’s try something slightly different.” We all have heard the famous Thomas Edison quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This is the mindset one needs to adopt in order to get ahead in business. Of course, there is a fine line between persistence at a worthwhile venture, and pig-headed stupidity when something is not physically possible – but that line is somewhat fluid. Swimmer Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida in 2013 at the age of 64, on her fifth attempt, when numerous people had told her it was not possible. She believed it was, and she stuck at it – even when she had been forced to abandon previous attempts after being stung by jellyfish. This woman would do well in business!
- Look at how you set goals. According to Dweck, how your team sets goals can affect mindset. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to set performance goals rather than learning goals. Of course, we do need some sort of performance related goal for sales etc – but learning goals will encourage employees to focus on challenges and making an effort. Try placing a stronger emphasis on goals around learning and improvement, and see what a difference it makes in your company.
- Look at how you give feedback. We all have to give negative feedback from time to time, when a job has not been done well or there is room for improvement. In the heat of the moment is never the time to relay messages like this! Go away, cool off and come back later and explain calmly what went wrong. Depersonalise the situation, and talk about what happened in concrete terms rather than saying “you can’t do this” or “you’ve failed at that.” Similarly, positive feedback is also something to be aware of. As a general rule we should look to praise the action rather than the person – so rather than saying “you’re so great, look what you did” say “thanks so much for your hard work in achieving this result.”
If you can cultivate a growth mindset in your team – and in yourself – I believe you will go much further in business, and in life in general. If you look at every top business person, every top athlete, in fact anyone at the top of their game, you will see this. It’s not that these people have never failed; it’s that they’ve stood back up and said “not yet; maybe next time!”