Why a growth mindset matters in business

Mindset has become a bit of a hot topic recently. In the words of Carol Dweck, author of ‘Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential’, a growth mindset is one that makes you concerned with improving rather than how you’ll be judged. It is the mindset that stems from the belief that intelligence, personality and character are not carved in stone or fixed but can be changed and developed over time and with effort.

By contrast, a fixed mindset assumes talent and / or personal characteristics are innate and there’s not really much you can do to change them. Like many theories before it, it is a deceptively simple concept which has the potential to deliver an incredibly powerful output.  And it has helped me make a whole lot of sense out of my experiences in business and in life.

Through research, Dweck found that adopting the growth mindset had a profound impact on development and on results. If you believe that you can grow, develop and learn then you are likely to behave differently. You can afford to relish challenges, because trying something that doesn’t work out doesn’t make you a failure. It just means that you haven’t found a strategy that works yet, or you weren’t putting in the effort required. So a growth mindset becomes a self fulfilling prophecy – you give things a go, even when you might not be confident about the right approach to take. If they don’t work out, you continue to work at it and over time, you get better.

If you can’t change your ability or your personality, then challenges are not an opportunity to learn. Instead they present a risk that others might see you fail and lose confidence in you. And while the judgement of others can be a scary prospect, the judgement you bestow upon your self can be even harsher and farther reaching in its impact. So the temptation is to avoid trying something rather than risk trying and failing. 

Whether you’re starting out or wanting to grow a business, there is a steep learning curve attached – you will inevitably be approaching situations and experiences for the first time. You may well never have had to sell things, write a business plan, manage someone or speak in public. And that is only scratching the surface with what might come your way! It’s important to remember that the people who are running successful businesses are not necessarily those who found it easy to do all this ‘stuff’ straight off the bat. They are the people who consistently made progress to improve – getting better at what they could do already whilst also developing new skills.

Logically, it makes absolute sense to adopt a growth mindset – seen in black and white, who wouldn’t agree that embracing challenge and learning are more likely to help you grow your business than living safely in a comfort zone? Yet so often the fear of failing at something or of being judged touches emotions in a way that overrides the cool, clear logic. Of course, for most people the reality is far less black and white than adopting one or other mindset across the board. I’ve worked with clients who throw themselves wholeheartedly into some challenges but see themselves or their ability as being fixed in other aspects and really struggle to take action as a result.

So if you recognise yourself in some of this, what can you do to move forward?

Tips for mastering your mindset

  •  Learn to recognise the situations when your mindset might be holding you back. The times when your inner voice is asking ‘what if I fail?’ The times when you feel frustrated because something didn’t go the way you wanted. Maybe the times when you are criticised and your instinct is to defend or excuse yourself rather than listen and consider the feedback?
  • When you recognise it happening, you have the power to consider your response and reframe what your inner voice is saying. Rather than ‘what if I fail?’ ask ‘what will I learn if this doesn’t go the way I want?’ Rather than ‘that didn’t work’ ask ‘if I were to try that again, would I need to work harder or take a different approach?’
  • It can help to focus on taking action and making progress rather than some big overall goal. Goals can be great to give you focus and clarity about where you’re headed but if you get too hung up on them for their own sake you risk giving up entirely. Chunk it down; ask yourself whether you are closer to your goal today than you were yesterday, and what you will do tomorrow to get closer still
  • Look for areas where you might be hiding from taking action. Are there areas you are not acting on at all? If that’s because they are genuinely not a priority for you and your business right now then all is good. If they matter but just scare the pants off you then make a promise to yourself to make a start, however small
  • Find a way to reflect regularly and pinpoint what you’ve learnt. Journal, talk it through with someone, get creative – whatever works for you. It’s amazing how reflecting on your progress can give you confidence in what you are capable of with consistent effort.
  • Surround yourself with (and learn from) people with a growth mindset. Those who are honest enough to share their experiences and mistakes rather than just their successes. Be wary of anyone who suggests running a business needs a magic formula rather than a consistent application of effort

As Dweck says in her book ‘mindsets are just beliefs – something in your mind. You can change your mind’.

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