Mindset by Carol Dweck is a classic that spotlights a fundamental but often overlooked reality: mindset matters for professional performance. Not only does mindset matter, it may be the trait that matters most for professionals who operate in today’s complex environment where change is a constant and learning is necessary for survival. Ms. Dweck describes two basic mindsets – fixed and growth – as a starting point for understanding our existing tendencies and our future possibilities. She also offers practical strategies for developing a growth mindset that can help us elevate our professional performance.
The Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset
A fixed mindset is grounded in the belief that a our core qualities (intelligence, personality, skills) are essentially fixed, with little or no room for growth. In a professional context, a fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove that we already have ‘the right stuff’ to do the job. It also feeds a belief that success at a task is confirmation of our worth as people, and failure is a sign of our deficiency. As a result, a fixed mindset can make it difficult to operate in a world of change and challenge, sending us on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs as we constantly try to prove our worth by having the right answers – or becoming defensive and losing confidence when we don’t.
By contrast, a growth mindset is based on the belief that our core qualities are things we can cultivate through learning, application, and experience. A growth mindset is less concerned with ‘being right,’ and more concerned with ‘getting it right.’ A growth mindset is also excited about the opportunity to learn and grow in the process of solving a challenge. With a growth mindset, we can view situational success and failure as objective feedback about what works and what doesn’t, rather than a commentary on our personal competence and worth. We can also feel comfortable reaching out to others for advice, coaching, and mentoring to support our learning and development. As a result, a growth mindset puts us in better position to anticipate and respond to the constant flow of changes and challenges that are bound to come our way in professional life.
Cultivating a Growth Mindset
As a starting point, Ms. Dweck reminds us that the fixed mindset and the growth mindset exist on a spectrum. While we may lean one way or another, most of us have a mixture of both mindsets, and our mindsets can change depending on our situation. Also, our fixed mindset traits can be a positive part of our personality if we understand them and manage them situationally. In this context, Mindset offers some practical ideas for cultivating a growth mindset.
- Understand and embrace your fixed mindset traits as a part of who you are.
- Become aware of your fixed-mindset triggers – the situations and people that bring your fixed mindset to the fore.
- Give your fixed mindset persona a name (not kidding!), so you can recognize it and manage it.
- Anticipate situations where mindset matters, be aware of your thinking patterns, and proactively manage your mindset for best results.
- Know that you will get better with practice, and keep practicing until understanding and managing your mindset becomes a core part of your professional personality.
Understanding the Mindsets of Others
In addition to helping us understand our own personalities, Mindset can help us understand more about the mindsets of the people around us. The more we learn about the connections between mindset and behavior, the better we can understand the actions of the people in our teams and organizations. This insight can help us strengthen working relationships as team members, managers, and leaders.
In this brief review we only tou
ch on the core insights and practice strategies offered in Mindset. The book provides a wide range of examples and research references to demonstrate that mindset matters, and that we can actually manage and change our mindsets. Although many of the examples in Mindset are in the education setting, the core insights and practice recommendations are being implemented in all kinds of organizations every day. We highly recommend Mindset as priority reading for every professional.