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The Truth About "Growth Mindset"

"Growth Mindset":  Over-used, misunderstood, and under-valued.

What's it mean to have a 'growth mindset'? 
I doubt we're all aligned on what it means.  It means believing you can develop your talents through focus, planning, feedback & effort.   The emphasis is on learning for greater growth/development.  Just imagine what it means when entire companies work on developing a growth mindset...

A fixed mindset is more about believing our talents are natural gifts—always there, always available.  Most of us have a bit of both but we all have our triggers that send us into the fixed mindset.  Typically, it happens when we feel judged or criticized, or we face tough challenges.  Situations like these lead to insecurity and defensiveness—which of course gets in the way of our growth and learning (and that of others)... When this happens at a corporate level, it inhibits knowledge sharing, collaboration, innovative thinking, taking accountability—you get the picture.

So let's clear up a few misconceptions about what it means to have a growth mindset:

  1. Growth mindset is NOT about "knowing" that you've always been flexible, positive or open-minded. Remember, we're a mix of both that develops over time.  So admit that there's always work to do to demonstrate a growth mindset.
  2. For us all to learn/develop we must be reinforced for things that lead to good outcomes—not just for the outcomes themselves. Reward effort, and when people seek help, try new approaches, and overcome obstacles—in other words, notice, acknowledge and reward incremental steps throughout the process.
  3. Growth can feel risky but risk-taking is also key—even if some risks don't work out.  Acknowledge and focus on the lessons learned when people experience "failure".  Encouraging risk-taking with cross-team collaboration is particularly important where everyone has the opportunity to grow and learn together—rather than compete.
  4. Support a growth mindset with actions that demonstrate your personal/corporate espoused values in real time.  In other words, make the values count.

It's hard to maintain a growth mindset because of the triggers I mentioned early.  What we CAN do is learn to become more aware of the "trigger switch" that closes our thinking and makes us feel defensive.  Once we become aware, we can work through that gut reaction, think about it  more rationally, understand where it's coming from, and learn to RESPOND with a thoughtful, constructive approach.  After all, companies who have successfully tipped the balance to more of a growth mindset have senior leaders who've done the work...

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