3 Questions and answers about the growth mindset
Yesterday, I attend a congress presentation which included a section about the advantages of a growth mindset. After the presentation there was room for a few questions from the audience. The following questions were asked: 1) Can you change people’s mindset?, 2) What proportion of the people have a fixed mindset and what proportion have a growth mindset?, 3) Is it really necessary that everybody has a growth mindset? Wouldn’t it be better to have a combination of people with a fixed mindset and people with a growth mindset in your team?
These are questions I have heard before and which I think are interesting. The presenter gave some good answers but I have some additional answers I’d like to share here.
1. Can you change people’s mindset?
When this question was asked there was some laughter in the room. This question is of course very important: Can a growth mindset be developed and taught? And if so, how? The presenter said that it is indeed possible. She said that a way to do it is by raising awareness. By becoming more aware of your own mindset and of the advantages of a growth mindset you can develop your own mindset. In addition to this I would like to say: yes, a growth mindset can be taught and developed. Two things which work particularly well.
The first important thing to know about how mindset are influenced is that the way people (children, students, colleagues, employees) are given feedback shapes their mindset. Some forms of feedback induce a fixed mindset while others induce a growth mindset. Person-focused feedback tends to induce a fixed mindset while process (behavior) focused feedback can induce a growth mindset (read more). Even positive person-directed feedback (“You are such a creative person!”) induces a fixed mindset (read more). The type of feedback which induces a growth mindset is positive process-focused feedback such as: “You did that well, you must have worked hard!” and “Wow, how did accomplish that?”
The second important thing to know is that brief mindset workshops can be used to teach a growth mindset. These workshops contain some standard elements. First, a video is shown about what happens in the brain when we are learning. Then, a sequence of questions is asked which use so-called self-persuasion techniques. Here are some examples: 1) participants are asked to think of at least three reasons for why it’s important to recognize that people can develop their abilities, 2) they are asked to think of an area in which they once had low ability but now performed well, and to explain how they had been able to make the change, 3) they are asked to write an email to a fictional struggling protegee about how abilities can be developed, with examples of how they themselves had dealt with career challenges, 4) they are asked to remember an occasion at which they had seen someone learn to do something they never thought this person could do.
2. What proportion of the people have a fixed mindset and what proportion have a growth mindset?
The presenter rightfully pointed out that is not true that people simply either have a fixed or a growth mindset. Instead of thinking in black-and-white-terms we should think in terms of a continuum. There are different degrees of growth mindedness. She further said that she did not know what the distribution of fixed mindsets and growth mindsets was but that she thought that a slight majority tended to a fixed mindset. In addition to these thoughts I would like to mention the following.
In Carol Dweck estimated (in 1999) that the about half of the people have mainly fixed mindset beliefs and the other half mainly growth mindset beliefs. She also stressed that people can have different mindset with respect to different topics. We can believe that we can become better in one topic and that we will never become better at another topic. It is also important to point out that the ratio of fixed to growth mindset is not fixed. Precisely because mindsets can be developed is possible that in one context (a family, a classroom a department, an organization) the ratio is 50/50 and in another context there is a growth mindset culture.
3. Is it really necessary that everybody has a growth mindset? Wouldn’t it be better to have a combination of people with a fixed mindset and people with a growth mindset in your team?
The presenter said that she found the question interesting ( I agree with that) and that she needed to think about it some more but that she thought that such a combination would not be better than a growth mindset culture. I agree and I’d like to share my views on this.
A growth mindset culture can have some important benefits both for individuals and organizations. briefly put, it can be said that a fixed mindset culture encourages internal competition, defensiveness and an emphasis on judging people, whereas a growth mindset culture encourages cooperation, openness and an emphasis on learning. In addition to this, there is evidence that managers with a growth mindset are more effective and are perceived as more fair and effective (read more, read still more). Having a growth mindset does not mean that you are obsessively focusing on progress all the livelong day. Having a growth mindset does not mean you’ll never be satisfied or desperately trying to be the best. What a growth mindset does mean is to believe that growth is possible and that putting in effort is a requirement for improvement. In addition to this: having a growth mindset does not mean that anyone can accomplish anything at all. Instead of saying that anyone can and should accomplish ‘the top’, a growth mindset says that anyone can become much better though effort and effective learning strategies. A subtle but important difference!
I agree we don’t need change-obsessed organizations. Calm, moderation and realism go well with a growth mindset. What I don’t believe is that is ever wise to think that trying and putting in effort is a waste of time because we believe we will never be able to become smarter or better at what we do.