When Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck posited in 2006 – via her groundbreaking book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” – that humans excel when adopting a growth vs fixed mindset, the self-development world listened.
But for those who didn’t quite catch wind of the concept, what exactly is a growth vs fixed mindset and what should it mean to you?
Her early work studied the habits of students and their response to feedback.
Dweck discovered that where students praised for their accomplishments – with comments such as, “Good job, you are very smart” – were inclined to develop a fixed mindset, students praised for their efforts – with phrases like, “I admire how hard you are working” – were more likely to embrace a growth mindset.
Take a look at those phrases again…
- Good job. You are very smart.
- I admire how hard you are working.
Where the first is a declaration of a child’s predisposition and innate ability, the second is an acknowledgment of their effort and potential.
Dweck understood that those seemingly subtle shifts in peer response make all the difference.
The implications for this are profound and the scope reaches far beyond students in their formative years; it informs lifelong perspectives and mindsets. It affects all of us to one degree or another in myriad environments. Which means, yes, while it may show up in your more personal settings, it sure as h*ll shows up in your professional ones too.
Picture, for a moment, how your life might look had you let yourself take every bully or cynic’s criticism and unsolicited critique to heart.
Now, consider that those alleged “bullies” and “cynics” were, in fact, your well-intentioned teachers, peers, or parents who only wanted what was best for you but whose self-limiting-language was doled out emphatically and without caveat. Suddenly, it may begin to make sense how insidious the experience of developing a fixed mindset can be.
So, if you find yourself wondering why your colleague’s feedback the other day sent you into a 2-hour tailspin asking yourself why you’re in this profession at all, then the rest of this article may be worth reading.
*Perspective Point: For what it’s worth, this “fixed” mindset business does not take place in a vacuum either so don’t fret! Some aspects of you may be fixed but others may be quite open to growth.
Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset in the Workplace
Everyday choices are influenced by our preconceptions – those helpful and those not so much. It’s how we react in moments of stress, frustration, uncertainty, or fear, that sheds light on whether we’re looking at a situation as a sentence or an opportunity.
In business, it’s crucial that we notice areas where we’re growing and those that are keeping us held back. Because many of us operate as part of a larger team, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that a team functions best when all of its members are eager, nimble, and agile.
So, how can we identify a fixed mindset in the office and switch it for a growth one?
Consider these following scenarios & honestly assess how you’d respond in each one:
Scenario 1: After weeks of preparing an RFP for new business, the day arrives. You’re understandably nervous but excited to share your presentation. Everything goes smoothly; you nail your main points, only glance at your powerpoint twice, and at the end of the meeting, exchange a strong handshake with the client. A week later your agency receives a call to thank you for your time but share that they’ve decided to go with another group. What is your inner dialogue in this moment?
Scenario 2: Your boss offers that you take her coveted spot in the monthly lunch-and-learn with your company’s C-suite executives. You’ll be the least senior member in the room by a long shot. What’s more? None of the execs know that your boss has offered you her spot. Do you accept her offer to attend the meeting or thank her but explain that you wouldn’t feel comfortable attending in her place?
Scenario 3: You’ve spent the past 6 months researching, preparing for, and implementing a multi-million-dollar media plan. 90% of your client’s budget is being spent on Google AdWords and the airing of a commercial across Youtube. The remaining 10% is spread out between radio spots and an email marketing campaign. Mid-campaign, you discover that engagement from the 10% is strong and stats for the 90% are declining. Do you pivot and steer the campaign in a new direction or has the anxiety and overwhelm paralyzed you into passivity?
If, in the above scenarios, you found yourself criticizing your pitch performance, declining the lunch-and-learn, or getting sweaty palms at the mere thought of changing your media plan mid campaign, you may be stuck in some “fixed” mindsets.
Now, ask yourself the following:
“Am I more prone to conclusory declarations that make statements about my character such as ‘I am’, ‘I can’t’, ‘I never’, and ‘I always’?
“Am I more apt to make fluid, less-rigid statements such as, ‘I like’, ‘I can’, and ‘I feel’?
You’re probably noticing a theme here and if you’re feeling awfully fixed, try tackling the following tasks to get to growin’:
Start Listening More Closely…To Yourself
In moments of stress, urgency, and doubt, notice the voice within that’s speaking to you. Is it frantic and panicked? Does it preach, “shut this sh*t down and run away!”? Is it your father telling you that “only As are acceptable” in his home? Does it call you an imposter? Or is it calm and quiet? Does it remind you that although this moment is stressful, it’s fleeting? Noticing this inner dialogue is the first step to understanding how you react in particular situations.
The exercises above were an initial attempt to have you notice that inner voice.
Then Listen to Others…You Trust
Identify those people in your life whose opinions you value – a peer, teacher, advisor, or boss, – and ask them if they notice you exhibiting self-limiting tendencies or beliefs. What do they notice specifically? How are these tendencies and beliefs showing up in you? How does your confidant see your disposition change? Do they see you meet uncertainty with fear or enthusiasm? Be prepared to take the feedback with a grain of salt but if you’ve done a good job of vetting the pool of people you’re asking, the grain will be a whole lot smaller.
Get Comfortable with Discomfort
Identify the areas where you see yourself exhibiting a fixed mindset and aim to grow in those areas. Some have no trouble asking for technical assistance but may, instead, loath tackling a task by themselves. If that sounds like you, consider this — rather than asking for immediate help to complete a task, opt to troubleshoot something on your own first. Google it if you must but try not to grab the nearest person to “fix” it for you. This exercise will provide a healthy dose of discomfort. That’s good. You may figure it out on your own or you may not. That’s not the point. The point is that you’re letting yourself become accustomed to the idea that initial discomfort is temporary not permanent and that learning is not only possible but inevitable because you’ll ultimately know more from trying than you had prior.
Track Your Progress
Don’t let your self-development work fall on deaf ears. Acknowledging your efforts will keep you aware of the progress you’re making. So often we aspire for “greatness”, finally achieve that greatness and discover it’s no longer great. It’s ordinary. So, we set our sights on our new definition of greatness and the cycle repeats itself. A lot of struggle and strife without much self-celebration and gratitude to show for it in the end. And what does that do to a person’s psyche? It reinforces that the destination is what matters, not the journey. But adopting a growth mindset assumes the opposite. It asks that you revel in the process, the effort and your assured evolution. By genuinely seeing yourself change you’ll remember that you’re not a stagnant, fixed being but, in fact, someone who is constantly evolving and you’ll appreciate that the process is unique, wonderful, and worth celebrating.
Reinforce Resilience in Others
Notice qualities that you admire in those around you and be sure to share your admiration with them. Praise the effort you see your coworker putting forth and watch as their confidence grows. When Dweck posited that a parent, teacher, or peer should reinforce a child’s effort rather than a particular result, she reminded us of a truth we all innately know – that people are living, breathing, adapting, growing beings and that our only constant is change. When we remember that, our attempts to keep anything fixed will seem insignificant and we’ll finally start living from a place of growth which is precisely what we were born to do.
About Mediatool: Mediatool is media planning software built for the modern-day marketer seeking a collaborative, cloud-based solution. Get real-time performance reviews, better insights on ROI, and marketing spend overviews along with presentation ready reports at the click of a button. Our fascination with the growth vs fixed concept might explain why we’re so committed to developing a software that makes the inevitability of change a little less scary by offering our customers all the insights they need to make smart early, mid, and late campaign decisions. And in that way, we like to think that we’re helping set a foundation for growth mindsets in the workplace.
So, if scenario #3 above sounds like a situation you’ve found yourself in before – consider a tool that’ll give you the insights and confidence to pivot without the sweaty palms.