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What is a growth mindset and why should the working world be grabbing this with both hands? w/ Dr. Jo Mitchell

Dr. Jo Mitchell, coaching psychologist and Co-Founder of The Mind Room, has sat down with Greta to talk about why mindset matters in a special three-part series, beginning with what fixed versus growth mindset is and why we should care.

The research on mindsets at work

Decades of mindset research have revealed the power of approaching tasks and learning with a growth mindset, collaborating with a growth mindset, and giving feedback with a growth mindset.

This isn't about ‘thinking positively’ — this is about intentionally being super curious and open to what we and others are capable of, and making space for effortful discovery, learning, and growth. Assuming a growth mindset can enable us, cumulatively, to learn more, achieve more, and unlock more potential — more than we might have dreamt possible.

Our mindset impacts where we focus our attention, the assumptions we make about ourselves (what we’re capable of and what we’re not capable of), how we feel we need to show up in front of others, and ultimately how we perform and evolve at work.

 
“A growth mindset is belief you can develop abilities”
 
Carol Dweck

The vicious cycle a fixed mindset creates

Having a fixed mindset can lead you to feel like you need to show up with all the skills and all the answers. Underlying a fixed mindset is an assumption that aptitude is something we’re born with, or at least is a function of past experience, and that;

  • There’s not much we can do to transformation ally change our aptitude
  • Needing to put in effort demonstrates our lack of aptitude

What follows is that a fixed mindset can lead you or me to feel like;

  • When something feels hard that we simply have a low aptitude and are incapable of transformational learning or growth in that area
  • If the area we're finding hard is part of our work, that we have to hide the struggle with it or the effort we need to put in, because if people know we find it hard, they’ll know our dirty little secret — that we just don’t have what it takes

Mindset creates virtuous or vicious cycles of value creation or value erosion at work. Recognizing the role we play in our own cycle and that of others is important. A fixed mindset in the workplace reduces our rate of growth, increases our likelihood of feeling under threat (with serious implications for engagement and culture), and when we apply a fixed mindset to those around us it reduces the extent or scope of what we think they’re capable of, too.

All up, having a fixed mindset at work reduces the potential to be productive, to perform well, to have great employee engagement, and to yield great financial and cultural returns for the business.

It's important to acknowledge that a fixed mindset is taught to us by others — including in the workplace. In a subsequent article, we’ll get into how to unlock a growth mindset in the workplace.

For now, we’re getting into the “what” a growth mindset is.

What is a growth mindset and how can it affect our performance at work?

Having a growth mindset involves maintaining a curious mind and a focus on the opportunity for learning and growth. Effort is embraced and it becomes okay for others to see us effortfully striving because the focus is on learning, evolving, and getting better.

There's an understanding that effort trumps natural ability and gets you further. You have the power not only to impact the mindset you bring to your own world of work; how you talk with and respond to others has an impact on their mindset too, and their performance and productivity. If you lead or collaborate with people and you want to optimize their and your own performance at work, then it pays for you to learn more about the what, why, and how of actioning a growth mindset.

At a time when the World Economic Forum predicts that 50% of the world’s workforce will require reskilling (yes, reskilling, not just upskilling!) by 2025, there's more reason now than ever to integrate a growth mindset into every workplace.

To unlock potential in people — especially women and members of diverse communities — this mindset is crucial. I sat down with clinical and coaching psychologist and Co-Founder of The Mind Room, Dr. Jo Mitchell, to learn more about what a growth mindset looks like.

 

“You can think of a mindset as a filter for the mind. We use this filter to help simplify and make sense of our often complex lives. It is made up of core beliefs or assumptions about ourselves and how to navigate our world. According to research by Carol Dweck and colleagues when it comes to mindsets for [certain areas of] learning and performance people tend toward either a fixed or a growth mindset.”

Dr. Jo Mitchell, Clinical & Coaching Psychology and Co-Founder, The Mind Room

 

An example of a growth mindset in action

For instance, in school traditionally it was (and arguably remains) quite common for students to have a fixed mindset around math. Through their peers, parents, and teachers, generations of students learned to approach the field of math as though learning achievement was contingent on innate ability, either which you ‘have’ or you ‘don’t have’.

Spoiler alert; this theory has been well debunked.

Dweck’s research has demonstrated time and again that students with a growth mindset outperform their fixed-mindset peers in math later in high school, even if earlier in high school some fixed-mindset kids outperformed them. Over the long term, having a growth mindset creates potential and opens the door for value creation, learning, and growth.

Even over a relatively short period of time, gains can be made from having a growth mindset.

One growth mindset intervention again around math consisted of all Grade 7 students meeting in person with mentors at the beginning and end of a school semester for 90 minutes. Half of the students were in a control group, which experienced the same math mentoring but without applying growth mindset language. The other half received mentoring plus the use of mindset language (praising effort over outcome, in a nutshell).

The intervention group, which received the mindset intervention, experienced an average gain of 4.5 percentage points on their math achievement test scores at the end of the semester. Students in the control group did not improve. The importance of a growth mindset has been demonstrated in research in the workplace for instance with onboarding inexperienced Gen Z workers, amongst STEM universities and post-school training programs, and in human resource development and training programs.

 

Growth and fixed mindsets often co-exist

Perhaps one of the most vital insights around mindset is that growth versus fixed mindset is not globally the same — you can have a growth mindset around one area, and a fixed mindset about another area as Dr Jo Mitchell explains;

“For example, I have a growth mindset for public speaking — I like the challenge of it, I believe I can get better at it, and want to grow and learn. When it comes to singing, even in the comfort of my own home, I have a fixed mindset — I believe I have no talent, I can’t do it, and don’t think any amount of practice or effort will change that. Each of these mindsets has different behavioral outcomes; I accept opportunities to speak in public, I practice, I make mistakes, I listen to feedback, and I learn and improve. Whereas I avoid singing at all costs, I put no effort into it, I avoid feedback and if anything my confidence in singing has gotten worse.

Having a growth mindset is associated with enhanced learning and optimal performance, while a fixed mindset often leads to stagnation and poor or average performance outcomes. This is true whether we apply it to our personal or work life — it shapes our performance as partners, parents, colleagues, and leaders.

Our mindset is often formed unconsciously through our upbringing, culture, and media, and influences others in our lives. The good news is that we can also shape it through conscious choice. We can change our filter. We can shift from a fixed to growth mindset through intentional effort and reap the learning and performance benefits.”

 

"Having a growth mindset is associated with enhanced learning and optimal performance, while a fixed mindset often leads to stagnation and poor or average performance outcomes. This is true whether we apply it to our personal or work life — it shapes our performance as partners, parents, colleagues, and leaders."

4 key insights into how we can understand a growth mindset and enable one in our leaders and teams

  • Whether we have a fixed versus growth mindset around an area is thanks to a mix of how others talk to us today, how we talk to ourselves, and the assumptions, expectations, and language others have used with us in the past.
  • We tend to have a growth mindset around things we feel ‘good’ at, and a fixed mindset around things we feel ‘bad’ at.
  • Performance and productivity at individual and team levels are optimized when people assume a growth mindset towards themselves and others.
  • Enabling a growth mindset in leaders and all employees is key for unlocking potential in people and creating value for the person, the business, and society.
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