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Growth Mindset: The philosophy that all high performing humans possess

It was Albert Einstein who said “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and only cease at death.” Yet, I find many believe that education and in turn most growth stops once you complete your studies with an education establishment. But, I would hope that those reading this would know that the education of life never ends.

I had the chance to recently be part of a Q&A panel at an event with the topic focussed on the skills people will need in 2030.

This conversation triggered a wave of thinking and reflection in my own mind, particularly on the prerequisite that I believe is needed before any skill acquisition, and this is when it comes to mindset.

And in particular, for me, why a growth mindset is the essential trait for lifelong development that I’ve seen many high performers and those who find success in their own niche all possess.

Look, you’ve probably heard the word growth mindset thrown around a million times on social platforms like it’s some kind of secret weapon that you have to join a cult to gain access to. But don’t worry, because none of that is required.

Unpacking a growth mindset

If you google the words ‘growth mindset’ you’ll be met with an abundance of images and articles all sharing variations of this idea but in my research, I’ve found most of these originate from one person in particular – Carol Dweck.

Carol is a psychologist and professor of psychology at Stanford University where she is known for her extensive work on mindset with a focus on motivation, personality and social development.

I’ll be referencing a number of pieces of Carol’s work about growth mindset as we go on.

What exactly do we mean when we say growth mindset?

My interpretation (for what it’s worth) is that someone who cultivates a growth mindset is not only open to new ideas and philosophies but seeks them out. They don’t just fail fast, they learn from it, they adapt to the evolution of the world around them and aren’t afraid to make adjustments or change their mind when presented with new information.

But, that’s just me, far smarter people like Carol Dweck describe it as:

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

And to build upon this from another article by Carol Dweck in Harvard Business Review titled “What having a growth mindset actually means” we learn:

“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”

Essentially, a growth mindset is one of believing that you are not fixed, you don’t have to stay the way you already are. Growth is always possible and with application, you can always learn and change.

Don’t confuse this with blue sky thinking of ‘you can be whatever you want to be’ – this philosophy is more grounded in the reality of reaching your own potential, and not saying I can be just like so and so.

Why is it so important?

Before you can talk about building skills and your desired career, we must craft our approach. My work over the last 15yrs has allowed me to connect with people from all walks of life, and what I’ve learnt from those people is that cultivating a curious mind and one of growth is the biggest enabler of peak performance.

And, it’s important to note that you aren’t born with a fixed mind or growth mind. It’s something you develop as a philosophy throughout your life. We can never have a 100% growth or fixed mind, we all straddle between both.

We’ll have areas where we seek growth and others where we can find our views are fixed, but this can all be changed.

I’m feeling very quotey in this one, so let me share another from the ever engaging Bruce Lee who said “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.

How this can help you and organisations

You’ve probably figured out the answer to this already from what I’ve shared.

Now I usually love to share data and lots of figures to illustrate my thoughts. But, in my research so far (it’s always a continual thing) I’ve found very little hard data that objectively analyses the effect of growth mindset, whether positive or negative.

I tend to believe on occasions that not everything that matters can be measured.

From what we know (and can see in high performing individuals) about the philosophy of growth mindset, it does sound like an approach that would enable continuous growth for many of us.

In my own experiences, the high performers I’ve come across in life and the work environment all display this approach in some way. It’s one I try to cultivate in my own life too.

Of course, mindset alone will not bring you success. We must also have the desire to do many things and the discipline to achieve them (more on that in an upcoming edition).

So, before we talk about skills, let’s explore the mind.

We will all only get as far as our mind allows us, so it might just be that in cultivating a mindset of growth we can reach not only our own potential but also help others do that across organisations too.


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