Cultivating growth mindset at work and in life

7 min read
Toshani B

What is the number one requirement for a business to grow into success? Is it the high-profile investors? Is it the capital you have raised or the market conditions? In reality, none of these alone can help you scale your business to new heights if you don’t have one key ingredient — a growth mindset.

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." — George Bernard Shaw

Now, what exactly is a growth mindset and why should entrepreneurs develop one? Mindset, we know, is the set of our belief and attitude towards our own abilities. It’s the key factor affecting how we behave and influence those around us — whether in life or in business.

No discussion on mindsets can be completed without the mention of Stanford University psychologist and researcher, Carol S. Dweck, who with her extensive research discovered the power of mindset.

In her renowned book, Mindset: the New Psychology of Success, Dweck outlines the differences between fixed mindset and growth mindset. Dr. Dweck shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities.

People with a fixed mindset — those who believe that abilities are fixed — are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset — those who believe that abilities can be developed.

A growth mindset encourages you to overcome obstacles and view setbacks as opportunities.

Dweck found from her research that a culture of growth and innovation sets the tone for many positive factors, such as:

  • Increased collaboration
  • Heightened productivity
  • Greater engagement in the workplace

If we look around us and seek examples, we find that most successful leaders have a growth mindset. They take risks, show empathy, allow themselves and their people to learn from failure. Most importantly, these leaders stay agile in the face of a crisis.

On the other hand, in companies where the fixed mindset culture is dominant, employees sometimes feel threatened when obstacles occur, innovation is stifled and they feel that there is no room for failure as managers celebrate big results, not the effort.

Adopting a growth mindset

In today’s context, as the pandemic continues to change the way we live and work, let’s consider some ways we can take control of our attitude and adopt a growth mindset.

1. Embrace failure

The first step involves viewing failure as a positive rather than a negative.

If we believe in the age-old saying: ‘failures are the stepping stones to success,’ we would know why successful people typically fail their way to success.

Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times before getting his big break.

According to Dweck, “Great parents, teachers, managers, and coaches use failure as a tool to foster outstanding accomplishment in an individual.”

As US-based entrepreneur Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, an intimate apparel company, said, “My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn't have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mind set at an early age that one shouldn’t be afraid to fail.”

2. Learn, learn and learn

View of person rock climbing

People with a growth mindset always look for an opportunity to learn. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has embraced this philosophy to transition the tech major from a "know it all" to a "learn it all" work environment.

“If you take two kids at school, one of them has more innate capability but is a know-it-all. The other person has less innate capability but is a learn-it-all.

“The learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all,” believes Nadella. It was Nadella who drove the growth mindsetto bring a transformation to Microsoft.

Studies have proved that willingness to learn new skills is one of the most important qualities employers look for when hiring new employees.

One simple way to be a lifelong learner is being curious about everything.

Research has also shown that 85% of successful people read two or more self-improvement or educational books per month.

3. Seek out challenge

Ask any expert and he or she will tell you ‘challenges are opportunities that push you towards your goals and help you grow.’ In life, we grow through challenge and not through stagnation or inaction. After all, the magic happens outside our comfort zones.

Woman holding an old video camera

Although entrepreneurial and progressive, Walt Disney wasn’t a born leader. Walt acquired soft skills like:

  • People skills
  • Communication skills
  • Emotional intelligence skills

He learned them over time, by trial and error and by studying people. He said it was “kind of fun to do the impossible.”

In fact, with a growth mindset, one tends to see opportunities amid challenges and look at all the angles to see if the challenge can be turned into an opportunity. In contrast, one with a fixed mindset will already give up before considering next steps.

Taking on a challenge and overcoming the fear within is possible through learning, adapting, acquiring new skills, and through experience. As famous author C.S. Lewis believes, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

Related: Soft skill development in tech

4. Go beyond your limits

Two people sitting with a microphone on a table between them

Stepping into the unknown has never been easy. But adopting a mindset that says we can surpass the limits we've set for ourselves will help us improve.

Authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness explain in Peak Performance that “the ego puts the brakes and serves as a protective mechanism that holds us back from reaching our true limits.”

Those who pushed themselves to the edge and expanded their possibilities know what they have gained is far more valuable than the obstacles they faced on the way.

As revered martial artist Bruce Lee said, “If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life.

There are no limits.

“There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

Likewise famed author of self-help genre Dale Carnegie observed, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed no hope at all.”

5. Ask for feedback

Two people talking in an informal setting

People who want to grow personally and professionally tend to ask for and value feedback. They aren’t afraid to be criticized or judged.

A growth-oriented leader for example, will be more open to input and ideas from his employees without thinking of it as a negative criticism.

Mentors have played a decisive role in the career journey of some of most successful entrepreneurs. For example, Bill Gates was mentored by Warren Buffett. Gates has written in his blog, “Warren has helped us do two things that are impossible to overdo in one lifetime: learn more and laugh more.”

Summing up 

To conclude, those who develop a growth mindset enjoy learning new things, are more likely to:

  • Welcome challenges
  • Ask for feedback
  • Learn from mistakes rather than dwell on them
  • Be persistent and driven to achieve their goals

Transitioning to a growth mindset requires constant effort. Organizations in which senior leaders foster a growth mindset tend to welcome a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Their employees are also more committed and not afraid to try new things.

With technology and business models changing rapidly, embracing a growth mindset is inevitable.

According to a report by McKinsey, up to 375 million workers worldwide will need to change roles or learn new skills by 2030. It indicates that a growth mindset is pertinent in an ever-changing “new normal.”

Remember that a growth mindset is not a proclamation, but a journey that needs ongoing attention. A business that cannot adopt a growth mindset today simply cannot thrive!