Carol Dweck’s Mindset for Achievement

This week we were lucky enough to attend a fascinating talk by Professor Carol Dweck, entitled “Medical Minds: Growth for Healthcare Professionals.” Dweck is a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, and widely regarded as one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of motivation, personality, and developmental psychology.

Growth and Fixed Mindsets

Her work on mindset has been hugely influential and can be applied to any field; business, education, parenting, and relationships can all benefit from understanding how we think about reaching our potential. A fixed mindset involves the belief that your qualities and intelligence are set in stone, and do not change. This can lead to a person constantly trying to prove themselves, to look smart, to seem infallible. On the other hand, the growth mindset is based on believing that you can foster qualities in yourself through your own efforts. It’s the belief that although everyone may have different initial aptitudes, interests, or talents, these are just the starting point and can be changed and developed.

One important take-home piece was that we are all a mixture of both mindsets. For example, a person may take a growth mindset approach to academia, but when it comes to artistic pursuits they just feel “that’s not my thing” and do not accept any challenges or put in any effort in that domain. There may also be certain triggers that prompt a fixed mindset, and it is important to look out for these.

Growth and Leaders

In her million-copy bestselling book Mindset, Dweck writes that “managers with a growth mindset think it’s nice to have talent, but that’s just the starting point.” Great leaders are those who focus on and reward progress, innovation, inquiry, and ambition. They normalise and celebrate struggling and overcoming challenges.

One anecdote Professor Dweck told was about a school that, instead of having “fail” grades, would have “not yet” grades. This changed the students’ mindsets in a powerful way, and removed the embarrassment or shame around not achieving their goals by simply saying that they have not reached this target yet. She also talks about that and more in this video.

Mindset at an Organisational Level

Mindset is not only important for individuals, but also at an organisational level. Professor Dweck emphasised the importance of creating a work environment that enables a growth mindset. Organisations with growth mindsets are ones in which individuals feel empowered to innovate, because they feel that if they fail or encounter setbacks, they will be supported and encouraged to learn from them, rather than be punished. They use mistakes as stepping stones to progress, and by allowing individuals to grow, the organisation grows too.

On the other hand, workers in fixed mindset cultures may feel that they need to be successful or genius at all costs because failure is unacceptable, which can often lead to negative practices such as cheating, hiding information, and cutting corners to get ahead. Think of the extremely competitive culture at Enron, where it was seen as a sign of creativity to get one over on your colleagues, and the CEOs of which denied any responsibility after its fraudulent practices were revealed. A fixed mindset can stifle innovation and collaboration, because workers may be too focused on competing and avoiding challenges and the risk of failures.

This relatively simple concept of reframing how we think about our potential can be hugely beneficial to any aspect of life, and can help nurture resilience and learning throughout our lives.