Over the past decade, the term growth mindset has become popular in business and psychology circles. However, there are also many misconceptions and misapplications of this concept. Especially for organizational psychologists, understanding its nature and helping to implement or craft policies or programs that support it. The article below unpacks some of these misconceptions and clearly defines the term to facilitate that end.
The Need for a “Versus”
When psychologists talk about a growth mindset, it’s important to understand that it has an opposite and that both humans and any human enterprise are usually a mixture of these two. The fixed mindset conceptualizes talents or gifts as innate. While there is always an element of this stance in any individual, what psychologists caution against is embracing it wholeheartedly.
Especially in regards to organizations—businesses, academia, and government—a fixed perspective usually yields only one type of outcome. Individuals within this organization report cheating and secrecy, because talent is rewarded unilaterally and positive progress that falls short of the mark is often ignored or criticized. What this ultimately yields is a defensive posture in response to critique.
A Perspective Based on Progress
As noted, there’s no such thing as a mindset of pure growth. However, a perspective shaped by concepts such as progress, change, and the evolution from one form into another has decisive merits. Whether on the individual level or that of a multi-national corporation, growth mindsets yield benefits that remain and continue to impact success.
Dr. Carol Dweck, the mind behind the philosophy, contrasts the positive open perspective that thrives on a challenge with its opposite. A fixed perspective is one that allows one instance of failure or critique to define the limit of abilities, while the opposing open point of view uses these experiences as tools for continued improvement.
According to a Medium article by Ameet Ranadive, Dr. Dweck notes that the fixed mindset creates an artificial urgency to prove oneself repeatedly, mostly because of this all-or-nothing perspective. On the other hand, a growth-oriented perspective provides an opportunity to change, to acquire new skills and habits via exercise and application.
Misconceptions and Realities
While many organizations have crafted mission statements intended to espouse this mindset, practice is another matter. It isn’t enough to merely state support for growth potential or rewarding effort that shows progress towards a goal. Concomitantly, neither companies nor individuals should misinterpret the mindset to entail praise of any endeavor, however fruitless.
A mindset of growth must be geared towards goals, and it must be legitimately inclusive. The Harvard Business Review reports on how companies can enact this mindset in their policies and how its absence damages the productivity of employees. In a company guided by a fixed mindset, employees reported that there were only a few highly valued employees who were consistently recognized or supported. This negatively impacted their work ethic and their willingness to share, grow from contact with peers or pursue novel projects. Highly contrasted, employees at companies with supportive policies felt validated, willing to try new ideas and share information with their coworkers.
While its applications in the corporate world are still being explored, it’s manifest that such mindsets in individuals lead to more fulfilling lives, which are based on cooperation and sharing. The growth mindset is not a single concept, but a suite of perspectives that perceive setbacks or frustrated ambitions as opportunities for different successes, which can’t be anything but beneficial in the long run.