Young male employee seated at computer being trained by smiling female manager

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

Some use the term "growth mindset" synonymously with lifelong or continuous learning. But it originated with Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who is credited with decades of research that evolved into the notion of mindset. Actually, Dweck defined two mindsets, explaining that people with a fixed mindset believe their capabilities—such as talent or intelligence—are fixed attributes that can’t be changed. In other words, they (and their capacities) are what they are. 

On the other hand, those with a growth mindset “believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.” It is this growth mindset that fuels a passion for learning, ultimately driving success. “Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports.” Get Tips for Kickstarting a Growth Mindset below.

Benefits of a Growth Mindset

In addition to keeping us learning, research points to a host of other benefits associated with growth mindsets including:

  • Higher levels of comfort when it comes to taking risks and stretching toward new goals
  • Improved motivation
  • Lower levels of anxiety and stress
  • Stronger work relationships
  • Better performance
  • Positive changes in the ways our brains develop

Why Doesn't Everybody Have a Growth Mindset?

Having a growth versus fixed mindset seems like…well…a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t an individual—even one who believed that their innate abilities had served them well—be willing to pursue greater possibilities? Why don’t more companies elevate the idea of growth mindsets for their leaders and employees?

Dweck acknowledges that “it’s not easy to attain a growth mindset,” because we have what she calls “fixed-mindset triggers.” At the individual level, “when we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth.”

She says those triggers can happen in organizations, too, when workplace cultures and practices make it “harder for people to practice growth-mindset thinking and behavior, such as sharing information, collaborating, innovating, seeking feedback, or admitting errors.”

Sometimes people misunderstand what the growth mindset is, dismissing it as simple positive thinking. Or they may prefer to dwell on their past successes, reassuring themselves that relying on their talents has enabled their achievements thus far—perhaps they even use this view to imagine themselves more capable than others.

Fear of the unknown also may play a role in holding some people back. Similarly, a basic lack of desire to stretch, to want to learn more and be more, can be a hindrance. For organizations, just overcoming a that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it culture, or one focused on perpetuating power, control, and blame can hobble growth mindsets.

What is the Price of Failure to Learn?

It’s easy to imagine that people stand to miss out on many experiences, insights, and opportunities when they remain locked in a fixed mindset. Dweck says those who apply the effort and strategies required for growth “achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset … they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”

In organizations that don’t support growth mindsets, managers with fixed mindsets may be overly controlling, or avoid taking responsibility when errors occur. They may act on a need to prove their own worth by making team members or colleagues feel inferior. Because managers can exert power over others, their unwillingness to learn and grow can negatively impact individuals and, ultimately, the business.

When organizations adopt the idea of growth mindsets and take action to help leaders and employees develop that attribute, everyone wins. Says Dweck, “When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation. In contrast, people at primarily fixed-mindset companies report more of only one thing: cheating and deception among employees, presumably to gain an advantage in the talent race.”

Are You a Mindset Manager?

By helping employees understand what growth mindsets are and the many benefits they offer, managers can contribute to workplace environments that push organizations toward growth mindsets, too.

Obviously, a clear starting place is a shared understanding of what a growth mindset means and behaviors (such as commitment to learning, collaboration, sharing knowledge, leveraging mistakes as learning opportunities, and seeking feedback) that demonstrate it.

In addition, Dweck’s work has called out four traits of growth-mindset workplace environments:

  1. Skills are seen as abilities that can be learned.
  2. Innate talent may be valued, but so are development and persistence.
  3. Feedback should be given thoughtfully to support development and anticipation of successful outcomes in the future.
  4. Managers’ important roles in learning and development are reinforced.

The perspectives Dweck cites must be supported by organizational policies and practices that emphasize the role of development in personal, career, and business growth. Access to a wide array of learning opportunities and materials that are suitable to all organizational roles and learning styles are critical ingredients in growth-mindset companies.

Tips for Kickstarting a Growth Mindset

Use these quick tips to help yourself and others begin developing a growth mindset—the view that your innate talent and abilities are only the beginning and that you can use learning and development to grow your capabilities and drive your ongoing success.

For future reference, download the tips in PDF form.

3 Kickstarts to Develop YOUR Growth Mindset

1. Self-awareness is a fundamental skill for successful managers. Begin by assessing your own mindset—a few questions to ask:

  • Do you feel defensive when you make mistakes, or do you try to learn from them?
  • Are you content to rely on your talent to move you ahead, or do you seek out new skills and knowledge?
  • Do you feel threatened by high-performing employees, or do you reward their efforts and help them develop?

2. Embrace self-directed, continuous learning for your own personal and professional growth.

  • Take responsibility for your own development by creating a plan that specifies what and how you want to learn.
  • Commit to learning at least one new thing every day.
  • Ask your boss about the full range of learning opportunities available to you.

3. Share what you’ve learned with others.

  • Use informal conversations to share new knowledge with colleagues or team members.
  • Include time in your team meetings to share new knowledge or insights, and encourage others to perpetuate learning by making regular knowledge-sharing a habit.
  • Look for ways to apply new knowledge and skills on the job and in your personal life.

3 Kickstarts to Help OTHERS Develop a Growth Mindset

1. Model curiosity and commitment to learning.

  • Talk about your own learning activities and share new learning methods you’ve tried.
  • Ask questions of your team members to demonstrate how to inject curiosity in the workday.
  • Educate team members about learning opportunities available to them and encourage them to participate.

2. Build learning into ongoing team activities.

  • Add an occasional “How do you think we could do X differently or better?” question to your team meetings to encourage brainstorming and innovation.
  • Periodically skip the usual team meeting agenda and instead use the time to discuss a new idea or do a hands-on group exploration of new technologies—especially tools that help team members collaborate or share information.
  • If weather and circumstances permit, hold a team meeting outdoors or in a different location to stimulate new ideas and perceptions.

3. Recognize and reward employees for trying new things, whatever the outcome.

  • Designate blocks of time for employees to try new things or work on their creative ideas.
  • Visibly reward and recognize the efforts of team members who take intelligent risks, regardless of results produced.
  • Celebrate failures in team meetings and demonstrate their value in providing new insights and positive lessons learned.