Growth Mindset Definition – What Does it Mean for Your Work?

growth mindset brainWhat is the Growth Mindset?  Stanford Professor Carol Dweck developed this concept in her 2006 book – Mindset – The New Psychology for Success.  In there, she provides the following Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset definitions:

“In a fixed mindset, students believe that their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think that everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they that believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Below is a good illustration of how a person with a Fixed mindset thinks vs. one with a Growth Mindset.  Looking at this list below, can you tell which side you are on?  I don’t know about you, but I think I fluctuate between the two, depending on what kind of day I am having.

Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset

So, how does this apply to our work?  I first heard of the “Growth Mindset” from a speech given by Ed Gilligan, President of American Express.   He talked about the definition of the Growth Mindset and the three ways it applies to work:

  1. “Growth Mindset” definition of failure – It’s not a failure if you try something and it didn’t work out.    It is only a failure if you are too scared to try, or if you try, fail, and then give up afterwards.  A person with a “Growth Mindset” is someone who is willing to face challenges, is okay with making mistakes, and chooses to learn from those mistakes to keep going.
  2. An Example of Ed using the “Growth Mindset” at his job – As the president of AMEX, he was called by a government agency regarding a potential mistake AMEX made regarding 3K credit card customers. This agency told Ed that AMEX would be sanctioned unless he did something to correct this mistake quickly.  At first, he said he felt picked on.  He wanted to blame the agency for using this tiny mistake to exert its power since this agency was newly formed.  He was also worried about how he was going to tell the board about this mistake, and about the media storm that would surely follow.He realized that he was acting like a victim instead of someone with a “Growth Mindset.”  He realized it was better to face the mistake and grow from it, instead of focusing on blaming others or himself.  He decided to proactively reach out to these customers, admit the AMEX mistake, and offer a way to fix it for them.  Needless to say, this approach helped his customers, his company, and his reputation.
  3. Bring the “Growth Mindset” to work everyday – Ed reminded us in his speech that the “Growth mindset” is something we have to choose to bring to work every day.  It is not something we can just decide once and then take for granted.  We face challenges, large and small, every day at work.  That is when the “Growth Mindset” is the most powerful for our work and career success – how we choose to respond and overcome unexpected challenges.  It is important to consciously choose the Growth Mindset every morning before work.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this last one is easy to forget.  I often find myself waking up immediately thinking about the issues I need to resolve today at work, and hoping it will be resolved the way I imagined.  There are two dangers to this line of thinking:

  • I forget the larger picture.  While I may feel like I am getting an early jump on work and can be more productive, this is not the best way to start the day.  Regardless of our level in an organization, we need to always be able to step back and look at the bigger picture.  That’s how we can be strategic with our work, prioritize what’s most important for our jobs, let go of the 20% that is really unimportant, and still have time for life.
  • I go to work with a more fixed mindset.  By focusing on the outcome I want, I become attached to it.  This means that if I don’t achieve it, I would focus first on being discouraged, and second on perhaps who is at fault (usually criticizing myself for what I could have done better).  This is a Fixed Mindset because I am more focused on showing people that I am right and that I had all the right answers.  This is partially why I am attached to the outcome.On the other hand, if I go to work with a “Growth Mindset,”then I am working with an open mind – expecting things not to work out the way I hope, and I am prepared to think flexibly about what to do when the unexpected happens.  This way I am readyto take on challenges and stay motivated even when things don’t go my way.

After listening to Ed’s speech, I am reminding myself every morning of this phrase – “It’s great day to learn, no matter what happens.”

Your comments:  What do you tell yourself every morning as you get ready for work? What is your internal dialogue?  I think what we tell ourselves in the morning can be powerful in setting our perspectives for the work day.  Leave your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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Here’s to us all learning, growing, and thriving every day in our lives and careers.




2 thoughts on “Growth Mindset Definition – What Does it Mean for Your Work?

  1. John

    As a new entrant into the professional world, I found this article immensely effectual. It becomes so easy to feel as if my vocational value, or personal value for that matter, is a fixed quantity and that if I can’t astound my superiors within several months, it’s somehow indicative of my shortcomings and/or ought to be worn as an opprobrium.

    It’s funny how an active mind can spin some ridiculous narratives sometimes.

    Conceptually, this ‘growth mindset’ is extremely insightful and a literal paradigm shift for someone like myself. Plan to affix that illustration in my somewhere in my office.

    Thanks for the article!

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